Rental inspection ordinance inches forward

By on March 27, 2013

By: GARY P. KLINGER Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

A new ordinance that would require regular inspection of all residential rental units within Lititz Borough took a step toward reality Tuesday night when borough council voted to advertise the proposed ordinance for public review. A public hearing on the matter will be held at the start of next month’s borough council meeting.

Council members Todd Fulginiti and Doug Bomberger have been shepherding the ordinance through its various planning stages.

Bomberger stressed the importance of landlords and tenants being aware that there is progress on the new ordinance and that now is their opportunity for comment. As a part of the hearing process, local residents are invited to offer their input.

At the close of the hearing, the council then has 45 days in which to act on the measure. That means that action could take place as early as their April 29 meeting. Should council not act on the measure by the May 28th meeting, it would go back to the drawing board, something council has said they hope to avoid.

Lititz is one of perhaps only a handful of municipalities state wide that don’t already have such an ordinance in place.

"This is coming out to address health and human safety issues within the borough," said Bomberger. "We found there are over 1,000 rental properties within the borough limits. A lot of the value of this ordinance goes to helping us protect those who protect us, namely EMS workers and the police."

Both Bomberger and Fulginiti stressed that this ordinance is designed to help protect both the landlord and the tenants. For the landlords, this ordinance is a means to help promote an investment in these properties. For the tenants, it in a sense serves as a means of warranty to protect them from unsafe or unhealthy living conditions by setting base standards across the borough.

Under the proposed ordinance, all rental properties would be licensed annually and inspected every three years on a rotating basis. Inspections would assure that each rental unit poses no threat to health or safety. Inspections would include things like assuring electrical outlets and fixtures are all functional, that each bedroom has a functioning smoke detector, that living spaces have proper emergency exits and that the buildings are in safe working conditions. Heating, electric and plumbing systems are safe and functional.

Costs for the annual licensing could cost $40 per year. Inspection costs could run $50. Those amounts are still being worked out. But council members are trying to keep those cost to a minimum.

"We are sensitive to the cost," said Bomberger. "We are still digesting the actual costs but these figures are closer to what exist in the borough. They have been lowered but we want to continue looking at this over the next month or so."

Fulginti echoed that sentiment.

"It’s really hard to predict what the actual costs will be," added Fulginiti.

Council president Karen Weibel was supportive of the committee’s work thus far. She said it may take actually running this new program for two or three years to get a real feel for what the actual costs will be. She pointed to even incidental costs such as printing and postage which can help drive up the cost of administering such a program.

"This addresses warrantee issues between the landlord and tenants," added Weibel. "If you are a tenant and your landlord chooses to not fix something that effects your health and safety that is a warranty issue."

Weibel added that such an ordinance can now help the borough to better inventory residential property to determine exactly how many rental properties exist in the borough, who owns those properties and who lives in each unit.

"Almost 40 percent of our residential units are rentals which is a high percentage" added Weibel. "I’m also fairly certain many of these units are rented without a lease which could protect both the landlords and the tenants from issues which might arise between them."

Bomberger and Fulginiti cited U.S. Census figures which concurred with Weibel’s estimate that 40 percent of the borough’s residential units are rentals.

Weilbel also pointed out that such an ordinance is a means the borough can use to assure blighted properties do not gain a foothold within the borough.

"We cannot allow blight to take hold of even one block," noted Weibel.

Fulginiti added that he expects the inventory of rental properties, not only in Lititz but nationwide is likely to increase in the near term. He stressed the importance of implementing this new ordinance sooner than later. More BOROUGH COUNCIL, page A14