Watertown landlord prepared to stop investing in Watertown, cites squatting, drugs

Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 4:48 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - A Watertown landlord says he’s prepared to stop investing in Watertown, if tenants aren’t handed consequences for their alleged squatting, property damage, and drug activity.

Ed Smalls stood before council for more than ten minutes Monday night, detailing his many frustrations, including the lengths he’s gone through to evict someone who never even signed a lease.

“You’re losing a lot of income, a lot of money for Watertown,” Smalls said.

During public comment with a time limit of three minutes, Watertown landlord Ed Smalls stood in front of Watertown City Council Monday night for 12.

When he started as a landlord, Smalls says he wanted to bring affordable housing to Watertown. He says he’s now suffering for it, because of about 10% of his tenants.

“For the last year-and-a-half, or two years, I’ve gotten bad tenants. These bad tenants have taken so much of my income, that it’s not even funny,” he said.

Smalls detailed the drug use, and meth-making.

“My utility bills went up 400-dollars a month. I pay for their utilities. Even with that, we’re told this is a civil matter. But in New York State, there’s a thing called theft of services,” Smalls said.

He talked about one of his properties on Emerson Street, left with $20,000 dollars worth of damage by a former tenant.

Smalls also referenced squatter’s rights in New York state. Smalls said someone living at his Franklin Street property began staying there with a former tenant who no longer lives there. Now, she’s considered a tenant who doesn’t pay rent, and he has to take her to court to get her evicted.

“I went to court for a person I didn’t even put on my lease,” Smalls said. “I didn’t even know them!”

Smalls said he doesn’t blame law enforcement, but causing property damage, and living at his properties for free, is theft.

“The law is the law, we must interpret the law for our area and make sure it’s not just for New York and Albany, because up here it’s different,” he said.

The topic of property damage and drug-use in rental properties was discussed last week at a work session with members of law enforcement.

District Attorney Krystina Mills said issues like property damage are hard to prove criminally.

“I have to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that this person did the damage. Not that they’re responsible for it, because they’re the person on the lease. But that they did the damage,” Mills said.

Council members Cliff Olney and Sarah Compo Pierce brought up the idea of writing a letter to state lawmakers and even the Governor about what landlords like Smalls are experiencing in Watertown.