'Slumlords' should be targets in fight against blight
Landlords allow properties to deteriorate or simply abandon them because, they often say, it's too expensive to bring the buildings up to code.
But everything is relative. Their analysis is rooted in the fact that the law makes it possible for them to get away with extracting as much money as they can from properties before walking away. There is no inherent cost attached to blight.
That's why state Sen. David Argall, of Tamaqua, is on the right track with an idea to create what he calls a "slumlord tax."
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It's hardly coincidental that, as Argall discusses the latest proposal in his ongoing battle against blight (he spoke Monday, the start of a three-day summit on housing issues in Harrisburg), Mount Carmel landlords are speaking out in objection to a borough proposal to charge an annual fee per rental unit. No higher than $25 per unit, the new fee would be in addition to annual registration and per-unit inspection fees.
This issue is a difficult and contentious one, and it will remain as such. That's why Argall, Northumberland County (which recently formed a blight task force) and Mount Carmel councilmen are searching for solutions.
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Argall has not yet introduced his "slumlord tax" bill, but he has suggested that the revenue a tax would generate at the local level could be used to fund demolition and otherwise fight blighted properties. The money could perhaps supplement code enforcement efforts, such as what Mount Carmel is attempting to do with its new fee.
Any such law would have to possess a legally sustainable definition of what constitutes blight and a "slumlord," but the idea is worth pursuing. It, in effect, would establish a price on blight that landlords would have to consider against the costs of properly maintaining rental properties.
And it would add to a growing anti-blight arsenal, including a new law establishing "land banks" to acquire, clear and develop blighted property, and court appointment of conservators to take over properties from non-responsive landlords. Again, we urge local municipal governments to get on board with the county task force and make use of every tool in the toolbox to redevelop blighted neighborhoods.
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Again, not coincidentally, the Mount Carmel landlords objecting to the new fee proposal pointed out the problem of slumlords. As one objector said: "Maybe there could be bigger fines for the abusers that are really enforced and not punishment for the landlords who do the right thing."
Well said. Let's hope the state Legislature gets the message and helps Argall's idea proceed.