Carlisle plans to put a revised rental ordinance into effect on April 1, 2020, but the ordinance, now undergoing its third revision, still needs some work.
Landlords speaking at the borough council workshop meeting Dec. 4 raised questions about exemptions and continued to object to the ordinance’s posting requirements.
The new revision sets April 1 as the starting date for the ordinance, with registration being required within five months to give property owners “ample time” to register while giving the borough time to work through any issues in the registration process, Borough Manager Susan Armstrong said.
Armstrong also suggested that the inspection process begin within three months of the registration, which could put the borough on track to move through the initial round of inspections by the end of 2020.
The draft sets the inspection fee for rental properties at $75 per unit and the licensing fee at $50 per unit while setting up acceptable criteria for third-party inspection firms, adding a requirement that the firm be located in Pennsylvania.
Exemptions to licensing and inspection requirements set in the revised ordinance drew more questions from property owners.
The ordinance exempts hotels and motels, hospitals, state-licensed nursing, personal care or group homes and on-campus student housing from both registration and inspection and licensing requirements.
It exempts properties that provide Section 8 housing from inspections because they are already required to undergo more stringent inspections than would be required by the borough, Armstrong said. The change was made in response to concerns over a previous version of the ordinance that exempted the housing authority but did not exempt the housing offered through smaller property owners.
The ordinance also gives the borough’s codes officer the authority to exempt other properties from licensing and inspection if the properties meet certain requirements. They are:
- Housing buildings or complexes with its own property management that prove they conduct regular interior and exterior inspections on a two-year cycle using specified criteria;
- Buildings under the same ownership that have 10 or more individual rental units that have a contract with a property manager or property management company, have had no more than six property maintenance citations or violations in the previous two years and conduct regular interior and exterior inspections; and
- Residential buildings in which the property owner also lives in the building or within the borough and has no more than four violations in the previous two years.
Councilman Sean Shultz said he’s received comments on that last exemption from business owners who own their building and rent apartments within the building. They believe that they, too, have a vested interest in the upkeep of the building and should be exempt.
Some property owners took issue with borough residents receiving an exemption if they don’t live in the building.
Richard Fleck said that in the age of texting, landlords receive messages from tenants at any time of the day or week if there’s an issue. Like anyone else, he would have to get the right people there to fix it as fast as possible.
“It doesn’t matter if I live there, if I own a business there or if I live a million miles away, I can’t make the people that I’m calling get there faster,” he said.
Attorney David Lanza, who represents the Capital Area Rental Property Owners Association, said it was “apparent from the discussion that there’s a certain amount of arbitrariness and line drawing.” Should the ordinance face a legal challenge in the future, it would be based on how those lines would be drawn.
One such area is the exemption for landlords who live in the borough. Lanza said he doesn’t think Mechanicsburg or Boiling Springs, for example, are a long distance from the borough.
“I think that’s an area of arbitrariness that should be looked at,” he said.
Property owners also urged the borough council to eliminate requirements to post the license, lease notice and contact information at the entryway to the unit, citing concerns about how it would look in someone’s home and the likelihood that tenants would take it down.
“I can assure you that if something is posted tenants are going to take them down. Landlords have no reason to take them down. No reason, especially if you know it’s a violation,” Fleck said.
“To me the intent is both for the landlord and the tenant and just having that immediate information there,” said Michael Skelly, the borough’s codes enforcement officer, adding that the requirements could be met by placing a clear envelope at the entrance of the unit.
The license gives the renter the assurance that the unit was inspected within a specific time frame, the lease notice reminds tenants of their duties and posting makes contact information readily available, he said. That could be accomplished by placing a clear envelope at the entrance.
Robin Guido agreed, saying that people often don’t read everything when they move into a new home. Six months later, they don’t remember what their duties were as far as trash collection, noise, nuisance behavior and the like.
The discussion brought quick pushback from landlords.
“This is ridiculous. These are adults that we are speaking about that are signing leases. We’re acting like these are children that I sign leases with,” Dana Steffy said.
Steffy said she gives her tenants copies of the leases, she makes a copy and that’s all that’s needed.
Councilwoman Deb Fulham-Winston agreed that it seems “sufficient” to have a tenant’s signature on a document saying that they received the information.
Councilman Sean Crampsie said the borough would review the exemptions, the posting requirements and revisit wording in the section on inspections to make sure a certified inspector conducts the inspection.
“Obviously, this isn’t done. In my opinion, I think it’s further than we were in the summer. There are some good pieces of it. There are some pieces that might need some work,” he said.
Email Tammie at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TammieGitt.
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