MOUNT CARMEL - A group of nine Mount Carmel landlords are calling for other borough landlords to attend a public meeting later this month to show their disapproval of a new fee being proposed by Councilman Joseph Lapotsky.

Landlords would be charged a fee per rental unit in addition to annual registration and inspection fees if there are enough votes by council to approve it.

Lapotsky has not yet proposed a definitive amount, but he said Monday his maximum suggestion would be $25 per rental unit. He intends the proposal to alleviate the burden of Mount Carmel Code Enforcement Officer Robin Williams while he deals with problem landlords and blighted properties. Williams' time is often occupied with additional inspections, court appearances and responding to code complaints.

David S. Fantini, of 106 E. Seventh St., submitted a letter to The News-Item Friday stating the case against the new fee. It was signed by his wife, Catherine, and fellow landlords Paul Vincenzes, Mike Magennis, Ron Moser, Robert Thurick, Gloria Moyer, George Moyer and Jeffery Costello.

"Putting more fees on the landlords only causes more stress and financial hardship in an already depressed area. Eventually, the rent will have to go up on the tenants who already have a tough time with the economy the way it is," Fantini wrote in the letter.

Lapotsky, meanwhile, said the average rent in the borough is between $400 and $450.

A fee of $25 per unit for the year would be less than half of 1 percent. "That equates to a little over $2 per month. I don't see how that could impact anybody financially," he said.

Fantini said he and other landlords are in favor of improving the rental market in the community, but not through establishing more fees.

"Maybe there could be bigger fines for the abusers that are really enforced and not punishment for the landlords who do the right thing," he said.

Lapotsky said he "agrees whole-heartedly" that problem landlords need to be punished and good landlords protected.

"We're limited by the law on what fines could be. We'd have to consult with our legal counsel," he said.

$100-plus now

The current ordinance, passed in 2008, already requires landlords to pay an annual $100 licensing fee, plus they 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 of an apartment and $15 for each annual inspection after that.

"I questioned it back then, and they told me this would straighten out the bad landlords and the housing would be better in the community," Fantini said.

He said the only thing that happened is the borough collected $60,000 in four years, assuming each of the 162 landlords paid a registration fee.

Neither Williams nor borough treasurer Megan Janolek was available Monday to confirm these figures, but borough manager Edward Cuff III said he knew it isn't $60,000 because there were a lot less landlords four years ago.

Fantini also said housing isn't any different, and blighted houses sold at the judicial sales are cheap.

"Some on council said it is good to get (those properties) back on the tax records. On the other hand, they cry and say, 'Oh, they do not fix them up.' What do they think was really going to happen?" he said.

Matter of fairness

Lapotsky said he appreciates the majority of landlords in the borough who are good and conscientious, but he said it's also difficult to justify the flat $100 licensing fee.

"I don't think it's fair to the person who has one property to the one who has 10, 20 or 30 properties," he said.

Mayor J. Kevin Jones said he is certain a fee will be implemented, but the question remains how much.

"If we have to keep checking all these places, we have to cover that. There will have to be some kind of increased fee. There is genuine concern about some of our landlords, and things have to be changed," he said.

Jones noted not every landlord is a problem, and said Fantini is an "excellent" one.

Meetings Dec. 17, 20

Lapotsky will be presenting the topic for discussion at the Dec. 17 workshop meeting once he researches it further. A first reading of the ordinance or an amendment to the current ordinance could potentially be voted on at the Dec. 20 regular meeting. If accepted, it would have to be advertised for 30 days, and could be approved at the Jan. 17 meeting.

Fantini's letter calls for landlords to meet at the borough chamber, Fourth and Vine streets, for the Dec. 20 regular meeting.