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Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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There is no doubt that operating an apartment building has its risks.

Landlords can do everything possible to ensure they are getting a good tenant.

Background checks on criminal and credit histories will let property owners know if there are any major problems.

But such reports have their limits, and there are some things about prospective tenants that they won’t necessarily reveal.

It’s at this point that landlords must take a chance on those wishing to rent their apartments.

J. Clancy Hopkins, who owns an apartment complex at 909 Washington St. in Watertown, must have been stunned when he finally gained entrance into one of his tenant’s units.

According to a story in Sunday’s issue of the Watertown Daily Times, biblical quotes and other sayings were scrawled on the walls of every room.

Mr. Clancy filled out a police report, and officers are searching for Mark R. Stewart.

He was living in the apartment and is suspected of painting the biblical verses inside the apartment.

To compound the problem, the religious graffiti was not the only damage.

“But [Mr. Stewart] did other damage, Mr. Hopkins said. The top of the living room’s steel radiator was sheared off; the kitchen sink is gone; window and other molding has been stripped; and a closet has been ripped apart,” according to Sunday’s article.

This is not the first apartment that has endured such vandalism by Mr. Stewart.

City Constable Patricia J. Hennegan has previously evicted him several times for defacing other units.

Mr. Hopkins is understandably concerned that he was not warned about these prior incidents.

Laura C. Cerow, commissioner of the Jefferson County Department of Social Services, said her agency works with homeless people to try and find them places to live.

She said that caseworkers cannot reveal much about any mental health issues their clients may have.

She is correct that confidentiality information must be respected.

But property owners also have rights, and one of those is to be informed about a potential tenant who has a history of vandalism.

As in any contractual relationship, there is an inherent tension between tenants and landlords with each side wishing to give up the least and gain the most.

But improved dialogue between social service agencies, landlords and police departments would relieve some of this pressure, which could lead to better living conditions.

Landlords should file complaints with their local police departments if they experience this kind of damage to their units.

And local police departments should share this information with their county sheriff’s offices so landlords have a resource of information to check.

Government agencies must protect sensitive information about the people they serve.

But if these people have vandalized apartments, landlords should have access to these details.

Social service and law enforcement agencies need to work together to ensure that the rights of everyone involved in landlord/tenant relationships are upheld.

And this incident also should serve as a cautionary tale for state officials as they rethink how to implement mental health programs.

It’s obvious that people in the north country still need these services, and forcing them to drive longer distances to take advantage of them would do more harm than good.

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