Rental inspections irk landlords

April 20, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A proposal for systematic inspections of rental properties in Chambersburg raised a number of questions and concerns from property owners during a public input session of the Borough Council meeting Wednesday.

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A draft ordinance would require landlords to schedule inspections of their properties at least once every three years. The property owner would pay an inspection fee of $30 for up to three rental units and another $5 for every additional unit in a building.

Borough Manager Eric Oyer said the borough began looking into beefing up its property maintenance code and allowing inspections by "complaint or observation." He said the borough was concerned about the upkeep of borough housing, about half of which was built prior to 1940.

Oyer said the borough's building inspector has been inspecting about 100 buildings a year, but there are about 4,600 rental units in town and a concern that "renters are less inclined to take care of properties than the owners."


"I am trying to rebuild and remodel these homes so they look decent," said Gale Monn, who owns several rental units. "I can't pay money for someone to come in and inspect my homes."

Monn said she didn't think she could pass the costs along to tenants "because most of the people I rent to are elderly."

Oyer said the issue "came back on the borough's radar screen" after concerns about deteriorating rental housing were raised by a community group, the Third Ward Task Force. One man asked why the inspections have to apply to the entire borough if the problem is in the Third Ward.

"The council cannot selectively pick areas in the borough to enforce ordinances," Oyer said.

Tanya Nitterhouse, the owner of several rental properties, said some property owners could seek to avoid inspections by not reporting that they are renting out rooms or houses.

Others at the meeting expressed concerns about violating people's privacy rights if the ordinance allows borough inspectors to come into their homes. Borough Attorney Welton Fischer said the ordinance is to assure the safety of rented housing, and a challenge to a similar ordinance in Newcastle, Pa., was upheld by the Commonwealth Court.

Gary Hawbaker, who also owns rental property, suggested the borough hire licensed contractors rather than use borough employees. He likened that to taking a car to a gas station for an inspection.

If the ordinance is passed, Oyer said the borough would have to hire at least one more building inspector. He said the borough could charge only enough for inspections to cover costs, not to generate revenue.

Council President Bernard Washabaugh said the meeting was for public input and was not a public hearing, since the borough is not ready to take any official action. He said additional meetings may be needed before an ordinance is ready for a vote.

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