Key decisions could be made on Jan. 8 to get a rental property inspection program up and running in Mount Holly Springs by the target month of June.
The council on Dec. 11 adopted an ordinance to set up a program where all 628 rental units within the borough are inspected once every three years. Under the ordinance, a landlord would only be able to rent a unit if it passes inspection and is issued an occupancy permit.
To implement the program, the council would need to decide whether to hire someone in-house to conduct the inspections or contract out the service through a third-party provider. A decision may come less than a week after four new members of the seven-person council are sworn in during on Jan. 2.
Sherry Boyles, Katie Daniels, Cynthia Goshorn and Cathy Neff are replacing Matthew Hockley, Leroy F. Shildt, Pamela Still and Lois Stoner on the council. Incumbents James Collins II, Deborah Halpin-Brophy and Edgar Kendall have terms that expire on Dec. 31, 2019.
Borough Manager and Police Chief Thomas Day has recommended the council hire a part-time person to not only handle rental property inspections but also other duties associated with being a zoning and codes enforcement officer.
“We’ve had some interest in the past when we have advertised for an officer,” Day told the council Thursday during a workshop meeting. “We’ve not found anyone to take the position.”
In the past, the position offered a small number of hours per week at a time when applicants wanted full-time work or a job with a lot more hours per week, Day said. Though adding rental property inspections would expand the number of weekly hours, the manager still sees it as a part-time position.
Day mapped out the rental units into three zones, one for each year of the cycle. Zone 1 inspections would cover units on either side of Baltimore Avenue from the borough line south to Butler Street. This would include all streets between the western border of the borough and Mountain Creek.
Zone 1 also covers any units along Mill Street from where it intersects with Baltimore north and east to the borough line and on streets adjoining Mill including Fairfield, Center, East, South, Peach and Orange. Each landlord would be charged a fee for each rental unit to offset the costs of the license and the inspection.
To give the ordinance “teeth,” the council on Dec. 11 adopted the International Property Maintenance Code, which details the standards for rental units. A draft inspection checklist, presented to landlords in August, included items related to security, fire safety, adequate lighting, adequate ventilation, a check for chipped or peeling paint and a check for signs of rodent infestation.
Each item is marked either pass or fail with directions given in the comment section of the checklist on what would need to be done to correct the deficiencies. Landlords would have 30 days to follow through. A separate fee will be charged for each re-inspection to verify whether the landlord had fixed the problem. The ordinance also allows landlords to file a grievance before an appeals board, but this would also require the payment of a fee.
Fees and board
The council could vote Jan. 8 on a resolution to set the fees for 2018. An inspection fee of $65 has been suggested and discussed, Day said. There were no details available on the proposed re-inspection fee or appeals fee.
The goal of the fees is to offset the costs of the inspection program, the issuing of permits and the processing of grievances, Day said. He said a yearly resolution enables the council to adjust the fees up or down to cover the costs.
The council on Dec. 11 approved a borough budget for 2018. That fiscal plan includes a line-item of $13,000 in projected revenue from the fees, according to Day. Expenditures would include the salary of the part-time staffer along with postage and other costs associated with processing the paperwork and scheduling inspections with landlords.
The council could also vote on Jan. 8 on a resolution to establish a three-member appeals board. The ordinance requires the borough manager be one of the three members. The council would have to appoint two other people as regular board members and a third person as an alternate in case of an absence or a conflict of interest.
At a workshop meeting Dec. 28, Day said Cathy Neff, an incoming council member, may be interested in serving on the board. Neff owns rental properties within the borough.
The ultimate goal is to have a landlord and tenant serve on the appeals board, Day said. “We are not sure if we can get the volunteers to step forth.” The council has had problems in the past finding people to fill vacancies on already established boards and commissions.
With the adoption of the ordinance on Dec. 11, the borough has the ability to file citations against landlords before the district magisterial judge if safety issues surface in rental units or if complaints by tenants uncover a possible violation of the standards specified in the International Property Maintenance Code.
“We are starting from scratch,” Day said about getting the inspection program up and running. If possible, he would like to get the cycle started before the June target date.
“The sooner the better for us because these safety issues are not correcting themselves,” Day said.
The inspection program and the ordinance is an outgrowth of a three-year review by the borough council’s Health, Safety and Welfare Committee. Council members looked at complaints filed by tenants and landlords and gathered input from other residents, borough staff, service providers and emergency responders.
The committee took on the issue after a 2014 community survey identified a rental responsibility ordinance as a high priority toward making Mount Holly Springs a better place to live.