New Mount Carmel landlord ordinance will likely be adopted next month
By Justin Strawser
MOUNT CARMEL - Landlords would be charged a $25 per unit registration fee each year in a revised ordinance proposal that borough council is expected to vote on March 21.
Councilman Joseph Lapotsky's plan for 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 he is satisfied with the revision, which would eliminate the licensing fee in lieu of the $25 per unit registration. Also, charging per unit is "fair and equitable" compared to a flat rate, where the owner of one rental property would pay the same as someone who owns many, he said.
"A lot of time and effort went into this," Lapotsky said. "I'm on a mission to clean this town up, make no mistake about it."
Lapotsky and fellow councilmen Gary Hixson Jr. and Leroy "Chico" Moser, Mayor J. Kevin Jones and landlords Dave Fantini, Paul Vincenzes and Michael Smith were unanimous in their recommendation.
"I'm fine with a $25 fee, as long as everyone gets to play by the same rules," said Fantini.
He said it was a great idea to have landlords work with borough officials.
"We know how they feel, and they know how we feel," he said. "It was a good process."
Modeled after Berwick
The committee also suggests council adopt the rules and penalties that Berwick created in a landlord ordinance in 2007; it's been upheld in Commonwealth Court and will provide Mount Carmel code enforcement officer Robin Williams with "more fire power" compared to the current borough ordinance.
Every owner of a residential rental unit must register the unit with the code enforcement officer. Any landlord or owner who violates this will be fined $500 for each offense, and each day of the violation is considered a separate offense.
Each landlord living 30 miles outside the borough must have a local manager who will be in charge of the units and available as an emergency contact.
As a prerequisite to entering into a rental agreement or permitting the occupancy of any rental unit, the owner of every 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.
The 26-page ordinance details that landlords must follow health and safety regulations, provide peaceful enjoyment for neighbors and not engage in illegal activities. It details that landlord duties include registration of tenants, annual inspection schedules and fees, installation of smoke alarms and other regulations.
Beyond not registering, other non-compliance with the ordinance will result in a $100 fine for the first offense. The second offense jumps to a $300 fine. For a third offense, it's a fine of $500 or the possibility of being arrested and imprisoned for a maximum of 90 days.
Inspection fees stay
While the licensing fee would 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.
Vincenzes said he supports the decision as long as it helps the community become a better place.
"Council had their mind set on doing the right thing and cleaning some stuff up. I hope it works," he said.
There's no reason a landlord can't operate a good, clean business and provide tenants with quality properties, he said.
"If I can operate and give tenants this at a fair rent, everybody can do it. There's no reason to rent a property and not maintain it," he said.
The proposed ordinance will be available for public inspection at the borough office, Fourth and Vine streets, for at least 10 days before council votes on it at the March 21 meeting, which starts 7 p.m.