Renters have power to enhance housing

Buffalo has earned the dubious distinction of having the oldest housing stock of any major American city, according to a recent study. Although this means we have some beautiful housing, it also means that some of our homes are in deteriorating condition. Other factors exacerbate the problem of housing age. Many of our landlords are small businesspeople with few resources. Others are out-of-town investors who are difficult to hold accountable for the housing’s conditions. As a result, renters are often faced with living in substandard housing conditions they feel helpless to rectify.

Furthermore, problems have developed within the rental inspection system. Repeat and recurrent housing code offenders are common. Housing Court is backed up. The city has failed to enforce judgments to collect fines. Buildings with fewer than four units are not required to be inspected on a recurring basis and constitute much of the city’s housing. With few effective resources, renters seem to have little hope of creating a healthy home environment.

Despite the problems we face, renters may have more power than we realize, if we educate ourselves and use it. Buffalo’s rental vacancy rate was 11.1 percent in 2010 and has probably not changed much since then. This indicates that the market favors those seeking housing over those providing it and provides an advantage to renters.

Because the systems we rely on to deliver safe housing have fallen short, renters must remember our power as consumers. We have the power not to rent substandard housing. We can carefully inventory the conditions of an apartment before renting it, and then get a signed agreement that the landlord will make all the needed repairs before we move in. If the landlord refuses, we should look for housing elsewhere. By rejecting substandard housing, renters will encourage landlords to improve our city’s housing stock.

Lee Bender