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Rental inspection program to begin in Pa.

August 23, 2000

Rental inspection program to begin in Pa.



By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - After months of discussions on improving property inspections, the Chambersburg Borough Council Wednesday night unanimously approved a resolution that will require the systematic inspection of rental housing, although leaving many of the details up in the air.

Councilman John Redding offered a compromise resolution directing the borough to double its present rate of inspections to about 1,800 a year. After the staff is in place to do that, the borough will have to establish a fee structure for the systematic inspection of rental housing to begin one year later.

The motion was approved after Councilman Robert Wareham withdrew his motion to double inspections based on resident complaints and observations by borough employees. His motion would have given the borough two years to evaluate the beefed-up inspections before determining whether systematic inspections are necessary.

Wareham's motion also would have paid for the additional inspections with general fund money. Councilman Carl Helman called that part of the plan "equal to voting for a tax increase."

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The borough now has one building code inspector and at least one more would be hired under the plan adopted Wednesday. After the additional staff is on board for a year, rental units would be inspected on some kind of systematic basis.

Owner-occupied properties would be inspected only on a complaint-and -observation basis, according to the resolution. Those initial inspections are performed without a fee being charged to the owners and is paid for from the general fund.

The existing system is entirely based on observations and complaints, covers both rental and owner-occupied housing and is paid for from the general fund. Since early spring, the council has been discussing how to improve or replace that system.

"Don't tell me complaint and observation works, because it doesn't," borough resident Dru Cramer said. She came to the meeting with a list of property maintenance codes she observed on a walk through her neighborhood Sunday.

Other residents also complained about rundown properties in their neighborhoods and complaints to the borough that have not be addressed.

Left unaddressed in Wednesday's decision is the type of systematic inspections that will be done for rental housing. Helman had recommended at past meetings that inspections could be done whenever a rented apartment or house is vacated by a tenant.

A draft ordinance earlier this year included language calling for all 4,500 rental units in the borough to be inspected at least once every three years.

Wednesday's vote also did not settle the issue of what each inspection will cost, or the cost of follow-up inspections on housing found in violation of the borough's Property Maintenance Code. That would be up to the borough administration to determine.

Several landlords have complained over the months of debate that charging all of them for inspections penalizes both good and bad landlords. Others have said systematic inspections should apply to all housing.

"I disagree with separating rentals from owner-occupied buildings," said Glenn Dice, the owner of several apartment buildings in Chambersburg.

Borough Manager Eric Oyer said doubling inspections won't bring about immediate change. Borough Attorney Welton Fischer said that once a property is cited for a violation it can take weeks or months to get them to make the required changes if they choose to contest the matter in court.

Oyer said the problem or poorly maintained properties involves more than stepped up inspections. "The problem is pride ... property owner pride. That's what we're lacking," he said.

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