Shamokin mayor reviewing Sunbury's ban on renting to drug-related felons
SHAMOKIN - Sunbury bans landlords from renting to tenants convicted of a felony drug offense, and Shamokin's mayor said he sees merit in the idea.
Adopted by Sunbury City Council in August 2012, the ordinance restricts such convicts from renting for seven years. It applies only to persons convicted since its adoption, and has yet to be challenged in court. A violation could lead to the non-renewal of a landlord's rental permit.
"We've got to look into the legalities of that," Bill Milbrand said Friday. "I want to make sure that if we do it, that it's legal and it's going to work."
Shamokin's solicitor, Frank Konopka, called the "illegal activities" section of Sunbury's landlord-rental ordinance "interesting." He hadn't heard of it prior to Friday. He acknowledged it's something that could face a courtroom challenge, but, "until it's challenged, it will stay that way."
Mike Rhoads, Sunbury's code officer, says a majority of the city's landlords have embraced the ordinance, as has the community. He said calls are placed to his office weekly from landlords checking on a perspective tenant's eligibility.
No landlords have yet been punished for violating the "illegal activities" portion of the ordinance. There was one case where a violation was discovered and the landlord complied, Rhoads said.
The ordinance was based on similar code adopted by Berwick and upheld on appeal in state court.
It applies only to a felony conviction of the state's controlled substance act, not simply an arrest or a conviction on a misdemeanor offense. It also applies only to tenants, not property owners.
Rhoads said its adoption by a "proactive" city council was done, in part, to help improve Sunbury's image by adding an additional method to deal with illegal drug activity.
"The thing that tears me up the most is when people call us 'Scumbury.' That just drives me nuts," Rhoads said.
Shamokin City Council adopted its own landlord-tenant policy in 2011. Among other provisions, it requires landlords to register their rental units, update tenant lists and designate a property manager. A proposed ordinance mandating inspections of rental units hasn't yet moved past discussion, although Konopka said he and code officer Rick Bozza are working it.
Milbrand said he hopes to review Sunbury's ordinance with the rest of city council and also have the matter researched further.
On a related note, he said he'd like to host a roundtable for all area mayors, supervisor chairmen and council presidents to talk about drug abuse and blighted properties, and perhaps streamline plans to combat both.