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Rental inspection a big step forward

Rental inspection a big step forward

Rental inspection a big step forward

March 15, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

It took them four years to do it, but this week the Chambersburg Borough Council members passed a rental property inspection ordinance. It's not a perfect law, but it's a good first step.

The new law takes effect immediately and requires every rental property to be inspected once every three years. Landlords won the right to have private inspectors do the inspections, but must pay $6 for a certificate of compliance every three years. Re-inspections will cost landlords $20 if there are five or fewer violations the first time around, $35 if there are more than five.

Allowing landlords to hire their own inspectors seems like an invitation to problems, not to mention the fees the borough won't get for a program estimated to cost $70,000 per year. Would such inspectors be as tough on their paying customers as the borough's own inspectors would be? It remains to be seen.

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That doubt aside, it was clear that something had to be done. About half of the borough's housing was built prior to 1940 and the borough's inspectors were only doing 100 buildings a year, with inspections triggered by complaints or observations.

But the borough has 3,900 rental units, with some of the worst in the Third Ward, according to the Third Ward Task Force, a group formed to improve conditions there. Not only does problem housing attract problem tenants, it's also a health risk to the people who live there.

Landlords don't like them now, but rental inspections will give property owners official evidence that a unit was in good shape before a tenant moved in. Such information could be used in court to recover damages.

Finally, as long as the borough's revenues depend in any way on property values, it makes sense for government not to allow the housing stock to deteriorate. To those who would argue that people should be allowed to do what they want with their property, we would agree, as long as it's an owner-occupied structure. When you're renting, you should think about tenants' welfare. This ordinance just makes that bit of common sense official.

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