October 18, 2021

Landlord vows to continue fight after city claims legal victory

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

The house at 2 James St., Cortland, right, is student housing owned by Gerry Ruggiero. The city recently claimed victory in a federal court suit where Ruggiero alleged he was unfairly targeted, but Ruggiero is more optimistic about a state Supreme Court case in which mediation was ordered.

Following a federal judge’s recent decision, the city of Cortland is claiming victory against landlord Gerry Ruggiero in his claims of unfair and targeted code enforcement. But Ruggiero said he is looking forward to a state Supreme Court mediation in October.

Ruggiero said Friday he’s confident in the upcoming mediation that alleges unfair treatment by landlords in the city while Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin applauded a federal court’s ruling in favor of the city against Ruggiero and claims of unfair treatment regarding the city’s occupancy limit.

In 1978, the city passed a law mandating only three unrelated occupants can live in a single dwelling unit.

In 2003, the city passed a new occupancy law that amended the definition of “the functional equivalent of a family.”

New landlords after 2003 had to stick to the unrelated threeoccupant maximum, but landlords who could establish higher density occupancy before 2003 could apply for a certificate of zoning occupancy and be granted grandfathered status.

In 2009, the city passed a law for a rental permitting process, over which Ruggiero and other Cortland landlords sued the city a year later, claiming it unconstitutional, court documents show.

The city got to keep the process but amended it in 2012 to allow for third-party inspection and self certification in an attempt to address arguments that the 2009 law allowed unauthorized property searches.

Throughout his lawsuits, Ruggiero has stated that other landlords, including Joe Armideo and Chris Calabro, have received preferential treatment by Tobin, allowing them to have more than three unrelated occupants while Ruggiero could not.

This, he said, is in part due to Armideo and Calabro’s political connection to Tobin.

Last week, Tobin applauded a federal court’s ruling that Ruggiero couldn’t establish evidence that the city was unfairly targeting him.

“I 100% expected this outcome,” he said.

Tobin cited Judge David Hurd’s ruling, which said Ruggiero had submitted his “evidence of a host of zoning and code enforcement actions attributable to various city defendants that fell well within the realm of reasonable official conduct.”

In addition to this, Tobin said the city treats all landlords the same.

“Although I’m disappointed with the results, I attribute it to me not being a lawyer,” Ruggiero said. He has been representing himself.

Ruggiero said he will appeal the case as well.

He is confident, though, of the case by Marc Pace, another Cortland landlord, that is being held in mediation by the state Supreme Court in Madison County in late October. In that case, Pace claimed he was targeted and cited for having five unrelated occupants while other residences nearby in similar situations weren’t.

Pace won an Article 78 appeal against the city in that case, giving Ruggiero hope that he and other landlords like him stand a chance.

Ruggiero said he’s committed to fighting against what he thinks is unfair treatment.

“This march is going to continue until every landlord is treated equally,” he said.