Press-Republican

Thursday

June 12, 2014

Essex County wants DSS probe

Lawmakers want apt. inspections

ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers have again pressed County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O'Neill on whether his agency should inspect apartments rented to benefit recipients.

“We don’t put our constituents in an unsafe environment,” County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) told O’Neill at the County Human Services Committee meeting this week.

“There’s got to be a way.”

CAN WITHHOLD RENT

O’Neill, who has repeatedly told the Board of Supervisors that his department doesn’t have the legal authority to do housing inspections, said local building-codes officers can report dwellings to them as dangerous.

“I have the authority to withhold rent until the code officer says, ‘This is livable,’” he advised the committee.

“It’s black and white. It’s a local issue, a codes issues, as to whether a dwelling is habitable.”

One problem with that, Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis) said, is that code officers don’t have authority to enter a dwelling without permission.

“I don’t see any regulation that would prohibit Social Services from visiting a dwelling (to inspect it) where there are small children,” Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said.

There’s no prohibition, but no directive either, O’Neill said. “Unless we have an allegation of a safety issue, then we can’t.”

'CONFIDENTIALITY'

Scozzafava said the Town of Moriah has a local law requiring housing inspections when a new tenant moves in — it was passed because there were so many unsafe and unsanitary homes owned by absentee landlords.

“Why, if you’re going to be renting an apartment that Social Services is going to be paying for, can’t the caseworker call the code officer and say, ‘Can you check this place out and issue a certificate of occupancy?’” Scozzafava said.

“One check and we’ll know if anything is wrong.”

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