The Carlisle Borough Council spent the bulk of its Wednesday night workshop session discussing the borough’s proposed rental housing ordinance, a more detailed version of which went up on the borough website shortly before the meeting.
This second iteration of the ordinance moves closer to a true draft of legislation, as opposed to the rough frameworks used in previous discussions, Borough Manager Susan Armstrong said.
Some things, however, have yet to be worked out, particularly the exact fee structure for the periodic licensing and inspection of rental units.
Borough officials stressed, however, that state law restricts the borough from making money off the enterprise, and the borough can only charge what it needs to recoup its costs.
Carlisle's long-discussed rental ordinance will undergo some more revisions.
“We’re not trying to balance the budget on the backs of the landlords. We want to make sure everybody has a safe place to live,” Councilwoman Robin Guido said.
The core concept of the ordinance is to require residential rental owners to register their properties with the borough, providing contact information that the borough will be able to use in case of issues with a property.
Units must also be licensed, which is conditional on an inspection whose parameters are determined by the International Code Council’s International Property Maintenance Code.
That inspection can be carried out by a borough code inspector or can be done through a third-party inspector, although this inspection can be rejected if the inspector is “not certified by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the category or categories of work necessary to conduct the inspection.”
That was one of a few points that landlords present at Wednesday’s meeting said they found to be problematically vague.
Another was the power of the borough to exempt certain properties. Under the current draft of the ordinance, hotels and motels, state-licensed medical facilities or group homes, homeless shelters, and on-campus college housing “shall be exempt from the inspection and licensing requirement.”
Other properties, however, “may be exempt from the inspection and licensing requirement of this chapter when approved by a code official.”
Borough Manager Susan Armstrong said Wednesday night that borough staff has held a number of one-on-one meetings with those concerned about the ordinance.
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These include units owned by a governmental or nonprofit agency that have an in-house superintendent or manager; buildings with 10 or more units that have a written contract for 24-hour on-call service; and buildings where the property owner resides in the building or in the borough.
Properties would need to have not been subject to any maintenance citations from the borough for a set preceding period of time to be eligible.
Attorney David Lanza, who represents the Capital Area Rental Property Owners Association, lobbied for these exemptions to be more absolute.
“These fees are going to be paid by the tenants,” Lanza said. “If we did not have the exemptions in here, we would be talking about increasing the rent of 55 percent of borough residents, which is why I’m looking to broaden the exemptions or strengthen the exemptions.”
As of the 2017 U.S. Census update, an estimated 55 percent of Carlisle resident rent their homes.
Under the current draft ordinance, properties would need to be re-licensed every three years; properties that have not had any violations would be moved to a five-year cycle thereafter, while properties with more than four violations in their initial cycle would be moved to a two-year license.
Chris Wyman, a property manager with D’Angelo Realty Group, also suggested that the ordinance should contain more explicit allowances for certain maintenance issues to be deferred, such as in cases where construction cannot be done during the winter.
Wyman also asked the borough to change provisions requiring the posting of the license itself, as well as a lease addendum.
The draft ordinance requires the license or each unit to be displayed “conspicuously” at the unit’s entrance. A copy of a borough-approved lease addendum with landlord and tenant rights must also be “posted within each rental dwelling unit.”
“We are telling them they have to have a decoration in their home that’s ugly,” Wyman said. In his experience, most tenants understandably take the notices down, putting the landlord at risk of a fine were the borough to be called to the unit.
Armstrong and Mike Skelly, the borough’s planning and codes officer, said they had met with roughly 30 people, including many landlords, in crafting the initial draft of the ordinance, but were still taking in feedback.
Armstrong encouraged council members to review the draft and suggest changes over the next month.