City Has Tried For Years To Help Address Problems At Skyline Apartments
Syracuse city officials say the recent murder at Skyline Apartments is just the latest example of deteriorating safety and living conditions that they’ve been trying to address for at least two years.
Common councilors asked the police, fire, codes, and law departments to detail what violations and problems they’ve encountered at the complex. Corporation Counsel Kristen Smith gave one example of legal action taken in July 2019 when there was no hot water. She says by the time a judge heard the case more than four months later, ownership had fixed the problem. But she says the court did not impose a $100/day penalty for the time that tenants were without hot water.
“When you have these chronic and flagrant violations of our codes, there needs to be some penalty so that we can drive new incentives to comply with our codes,” she said.
Smith says they’re advocating for change from the courts to hold the building owner, Green National, more accountable. Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens says the law also poses a dilemma for large residential buildings.
“The laws we have around property code and declaring a property unfit followed a path, traditionally, that relocated individuals,” Owens said. “So I believe we were focusing on not wanting to do that and it took great folks in Kristen (Smith)’s office to look at how we can actually peel apart the law to get the result we wanted from the owner while not displacing the tenants.”
Owens says that’s how the city ended up declaring the common areas of the building unfit for habitation, which still stops the flow of rent subsidies from the county to the owner. Neighborhood and Business Development Commissioner Michael Collins says they’ve meet with the building’s tenant association and talked with residents as conditions worsened over the past year or so. He says they’ve even tried connecting ownership to a potential buyer.
“Deputy Commissioner Jenn Tifft and I have actively pitched this building to other potential developers over the fall and winter, trying to make sure that we are connecting buyers that we know redevelop properties like this and manage them well,” he said. “Management would say, ‘Give us the connection, we want to do that,’ and then we would make the connection and hear back from the potential buyer, ‘Oh, they say it is already under contract.’”
Collins says that happened at least one other time. Since it is a private transaction, he says the city can’t force a sale. City officials made it clear to councilors that they’ve been taking action at Skyline and Green National’s numerous other properties for years, long before the murder of Connie Tuori. Director of Code Enforcement Jake Dishaw told councilors they work hard every day to get compliance, and much of that isn’t in the media.
“I don’t want it to seem like we don’t have a presence in these other buildings, we do, you can look it up. I think it’s a bit unfair to say ‘Why are we responding now?’ that’s not accurate,” he said. “We’ve had a presence, we’ve gone to court numerous times in some other cases and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Dishaw says there are 19 open violations at Skyline, and eight open complaints. The unfit violation will stand until the common areas are cleaned up and elevators are repaired. There’s a court date next week on elevator violations, and a nuisance abatement hearing on May 10.
Additionally, late last month, Common Council approved a police watch at the Skyline Apartments during the evening and overnight hours, citing the high crime risk at the building. The building owner will be billed for the officers’ pay.