LOCKPORT – A proposal to ask the State Legislature to permit Niagara County to inspect rental housing for welfare clients was voted down by a Niagara County Legislature committee Monday.
The proposal from Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, was killed by a 4-0 vote. Virtuoso, who is not a member of the Community Services Committee, wasn’t allowed to vote.
County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said he wasn’t convinced by Virtuoso’s assertion that inspecting apartments would save the county money in the long run, while Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino said there was no question he would have to hire more workers to make the plan a reality – if the state had permitted it.
Virtuoso, whose day job is chief code enforcement officer for Niagara Falls, said the county bears some responsibility for poor conditions in welfare housing, since the county pays for and often lines up the apartments.
“I wouldn’t let my dog live in some of these places, and we’re moving people in there,” Virtuoso said.
Restaino said he’d like to see the state mandated landlord security agreements, where the landlord agrees to an inspection before rental and again after a tenant moves out. The county then is allowed to reimburse the landlord for any damages, up to the total of the rent collected, by reducing the client’s benefits.
However, Restaino said only about 30 such agreements are in force out of roughly 2,500 apartments rented to welfare recipients.
Current state law bars county inspections of rental housing other than through landlord security agreements. Restaino said Albany told him the county would not receive state reimbursements if inspections were allowed.
Glatz said, “If we’re going to ask the state to change the law, they’re going to say, ‘Based on what? Dennis’ experiences as a personal landlord?’ ”
“I won’t take welfare people,” said Virtuoso, who owns some rental housing himself.
Virtuoso said inspecting rentals before the move-in date could reduce welfare fraud and save the county the cost of moving tenants into temporary housing if the apartment proves unusable.
Legislator Peter E. Smolinski, R-North Tonawanda, said he feared the county would be setting itself up for lawsuits if it took on inspection duties.
Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, called Virtuoso’s idea an “unfunded mandate,” and voted no along with Smolinski, Cheree J. Copelin, R-Niagara Falls, and committee chairman W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport.