Carlisle’s codes department handles about 555 complaints each year, but how those complaints would be affected by changes to the borough’s rental ordinance remains to be seen.
Michael Skelly, planning/zoning/codes manager for the borough, compiled information on the complaints at the request of the council as part of discussions about possible revisions. That information was presented to the council at its workshop meeting last week.
From anecdotal information, Skelly said he originally thought the complaints would be evenly split between owner-occupied properties and rental properties. However, rental properties accounted for between 60-65 percent of the complaints.
Rental units account for about 3,800 properties in the borough, Skelly said.
Exterior appearance and aesthetics are the predominant complaints for both rental and owner-occupied properties, while complaints about interior conditions compromise a smaller percentage of the complaints and are more often reported among rental properties, Skelly said.
“Most of the time, these issues can be resolved in a couple of weeks,” Skelly said.
Behavioral complaints such as those involving neighbors are handled through the police department, he said.
Skelly said there were a few chronic offenders, some of whom have multiple properties.
Councilwoman Brenda Landis asked if the code “hits a mechanism” that would set in motion a process to check up on problem property owners.
Skelly said there isn’t, but that the codes officers themselves may be more aggressive, issuing a citation more quickly, for example, when dealing with repeat code violations.
Carlisle resident Joseph Nunez suggested the information collected by Skelly be compiled in a way that would depict where the citations are occurring, such as a map, since it would be important information for police and fire department personnel.
“We still need more information to determine exactly what the problem is and what it is that needs to be done, if anything needs to be done over and above what is in effect,” Nunez said.
Councilwoman Robin Guido suggested that the Crimemapper would show the nuisance and noise complaints that fall into the law enforcement realm.
Though members of the council agreed that a map of codes violations would be helpful, the borough doesn’t have the technology to bring together the two sources of data that would be needed to make the map happen.
“We’re just not there yet for a number of reasons,” Skelly said.
Chris Wyman, representing the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association of Property Managers, cautioned the council to consider the effect of potential changes to the ordinance on the affordability of rentals.
Clarifying that he would not offer such rentals himself, Wyman said there are rentals that are not well kept, but are habitable. Property owners could see additional costs from inspections that look at issues that don’t affect habitability of the home such as whether there are screens in the window or how recently the walls have been painted.
“That’s going to be an increased cost to the landowner, which is not going to do anything but pass that on to the tenant,” he said.
Councilwoman Deb Fulham-Winston said properties must meet code, even if it is as simple as a screen.
“If you’re renting a property that doesn’t meet code, that strikes me as a problem,” she said.
Borough manager Matt Candland told those at the recent meeting at which the topic of a rental ordinance was discussed that the borough is still early in the revision process. The council is looking for a variety of perspectives and viewpoints.
“Then I think council will begin putting together an outline of some of the things that they think are important to include in the ordinance, and then the conversation will continue,” he said.