Borough considers system requiring rental inspections

July 20, 2007|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The Borough of Waynesboro soon could have a system for required inspections of its more than 4,000 rental units.

Inspectors would be looking for violations of the property maintenance code, which include deficiencies in the electrical and plumbing systems, Code Enforcement Officer Dan Sheffler said.

Sheffler has researched similar programs in neighboring communities, and is working with the Borough Council and its solicitor to draft an ordinance that would launch the program.

"Anyone who has a property that is rented by a person would have to have it inspected and up to the property maintenance code," Sheffler said.


The proposed program would require biennial or triennial inspections such as those in the Franklin County boroughs of Shippensburg and Chambersburg, Sheffler said. That provides protections for renters, he said.

"If a tenant calls in now and has a problem with the property ... the bad thing is that oftentimes, the landlord evicts them" for tattling, Sheffler said.

The idea developed when a woman from Hagerstown began buying rental properties in Waynesboro and questioned its inspections, Sheffler said. He said he contacted Hagerstown employees for information about their program.

In the city, the exteriors of rental properties are inspected annually. The interiors are inspected when the tenant changes, although those licenses are valid for three years, said John Lestitian, Hagerstown's chief code compliance officer.

"The program involves an application and licensing," Lestitian said. "We enforce the City of Hagerstown's property maintenance code, which covers plumbing, heating, electrical and ventilation and that type of thing."

Typical violations are infestations, electrical hazards and smoke-alarm issues, Lestitian said. Smoke alarms can be the wrong type or in the wrong place, he said.

"Here we are four years into the program, and we're still discovering those types of things," Lestitian said.

Hagerstown's program succeeds because of cooperation from the property owners, Lestitian said.

"The inspectors work with the property owners," Lestitian said. "That's the tone of the program. ... Most of the time, people want to have a safe building and one that's kept up."

A good relationship with the Landlords & Property Owners Association of Washington County has yielded landlord input on programs and educational reviews of code changes, he said.

The city has 3,000 structures with rental units, totaling 8,000 apartments, Lestitian said. It employs six licensing inspectors and assesses a $45 fee annually for a license, he said.

"I think generally there's support for the program in the community," Lestitian said. "People are much more likely to invest in a property if they know the building next door is in good condition."

Violations of property maintenance codes are not victimless offenses, Lestitian said.

An established program would allow Waynesboro to get an initial idea of what it's facing, Sheffler said.

"We have a lot of absentee landlords, and don't know what condition the properties are in," he said.

The Borough of Chambersburg established a program five years ago that calls for triennial inspections of rental properties, Assistant Borough Manager David Finch said. Borough staff have gotten behind in inspections, but are making strides to catch up, he said.

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