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Official says rental inspections running behind

July 23, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chambersburg's systematic rental housing inspection program is running a deficit and taking more time than anticipated, but the borough council Tuesday decided to hold off on making any changes.

Since inspections began in June 2002, the borough has conducted 1,392, clearing 909 rental units, according to Assistant Borough Manager David Finch.

"Sometimes that can be the same unit being inspected and reinspected," Finch said in explaining why the number of inspections exceeded the number of units cleared by almost 500.

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So far, the inspection program has covered a quarter of the 3,641 registered units, according to Finch. At that rate, it will take four years to inspect them all, not the three years envisioned when council approved the program in 2001.

"We are not going to complete the program in three years and it is not self-funding," Finch said. The only way to change that, he said, was to use more manpower and to raise fees.

Finch said the program is meeting the goal of improving rental housing.

The program cost $77,870 the first year, but brought in only $47,349 in inspection and reinspection fees and fines, Finch said. He noted the council originally considered a $17 annual inspection fee, but lowered that to $10 to make it more agreeable to rental property owners.

"We anticipated a deficit ... stay the course," Councilman Carl Helman said. It was originally estimated that the program would cost more than $70,000 a year.

"The second and third years are going to improve," said Councilman Robert Wareham.

The council approved the program over the objections of many rental property owners, who claimed the inspections and required repairs would raise their costs, which then would be passed on to tenants.

Finch said the council will have to decide whether it wants to go to a four-year rotation, or have another inspector assist Patricia Fogal, the property maintenance code officer.

When council passed the resolution, it did not include a provision to increase fees to account for inflation, Finch said. The borough also chose to go with a lower inspection fee than other communities.

Shippensburg, Pa., charges $30 a year per unit and York, Pa., charges $50, according to Finch and borough attorney Thomas Finucane.

If a property is reinspected, the owner is charged $20 if there are five or less violations and $35 if there are more than five.

Council President William McLaughlin suggested the borough could raise reinspection fees to cover the cost of the program. He said the initial $10 inspection fee should not be raised until every unit has been inspected at least once.

Fogal said the most common violations involve smoke detectors.

Chambersburg has 8,305 housing units, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. About half are owner-occupied dwellings, more than 46 percent are rentals and 7 percent were vacant at the time the census was taken.

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