MC passes revised ordinance
MOUNT CARMEL - A revised ordinance proposal that included a $25 per unit fee for all borough landlords was unanimously passed at the borough council meeting Thursday night.
The plan, which is effective immediately, was adopted from the rules and penalties Berwick created in a landlord ordinance there in 2007; it's been upheld in Commonwealth Court and will provide Mount Carmel code enforcement officer Robin Williams with "more firepower" compared to the current borough ordinance.
The original plan, which included a per-unit fee as high as $100 in addition to a $100 licensing fee that is already on the books, drew protests from borough landlords in December, so council tabled the idea and formed a committee comprised of three councilmen, the mayor and three landlords.
Lapotsky said Thursday night the committee - consisting of himself, fellow councilmen Gary Hixson Jr. and Leroy "Chico" Moser, Mayor J. Kevin Jones and landlords Dave Fantini, Paul Vincenzes and Michael Smith - unanimously agreed to recommend the ordinance that passed.
The 26-page ordinance says landlords must follow health and safety regulations, provide peaceful enjoyment for neighbors and not engage in illegal activities. It states landlord duties include registration of tenants, annual inspection schedules and fees and installation of smoke alarms.
Every owner of a residential rental unit must register the unit with the code enforcement officer. Each landlord living more than 30 miles away from the borough must have a local manager who will be in charge of the units and available as an emergency contact.
Fines range from $100 for the first offense to $500 and imprisonment on third offenses.
As a prerequisite to entering into a rental agreement or permitting the occupancy of any rental unit, the owner of each rental unit will be required to apply for and obtain a license for each rental unit. A violation of this part of the ordinance results in a $1,000 fine.
While the licensing fee will be eliminated, an inspection fees outlined in the current ordinance, passed in 2008, will remain. Landlords will continue to pay $40 for the first inspection of a rental house and $20 for each annual inspection after that. Owners of rental apartments pay $20 for the first inspection and $15 per annual inspection.
According to recent estimates from the borough, there are at least 300 landlords operating in Mount Carmel with approximately 560 rental units.
Quality of life
The council will vote next month whether to advertise a "quality of life" ordinance, which would allow the borough code enforcement officer and police officers to issue tickets similar to parking tickets when code violations - such as trash, high weeds, animal feces and snow and ice removal - are discovered.
The goal, Lapotsky has previously said, is to resolve the issue of blight and problem properties that are keeping the town looking shabby, and reduce costs to both the municipality and violators.
A ticket doesn't carry the same weight as a citation and would give people a fair warning to get their properties cleaned up before higher penalties are imposed.
Police Chief Todd Owens said Thursday the ordinance would help ease the burden on Williams so he can focus on bigger issues and enforce the new landlord ordinance.
"We're asking people to keep it clean and keep it orderly," he said.
Owens recommended the fine be a $25 ticket with an opportunity of 30 days to appeal. If it is not paid, it would go to a magistrate judge for a court appearance.
"I firmly believe that once people start receiving tickets, word will get out," Lapotsky said.
The ordinance will likely be adopted in May.