Crowd control wasn’t a problem Monday night at Curtin Middle School as city leaders held a forum to discuss the merits of a proposed city landlord-tenant notification ordinance and accepted tips from experienced and professional landlords, not the slumlords who shun laws and avoid responsibilities.
The proposed ordinance, which will require landlords and tenants to supply city codes with information that won’t be shared or exposed, is getting legal assistance to insure it will pass muster should challenges occur in civil court, according to Mayor Gabriel J. Campana.
While a few landlords came to the meeting to ask questions, the night also exposed serious issues facing the city, such spiraling crime and some wrinkles in the proposed ordinance that must be ironed out before it goes before council.
“We’re now seeing crime come back with a vengeance,” said city Councilman N. Clifford “Skip” Smith, chairman of the city Public Safety Committee.
Crime, particularly the difficult process of getting rid of tenants and landlords who allow properties to be used to deal drugs or allowed them to fall apart, is among the reasons the ordinance is being crafted, he said. The draft continues to be tweaked, he said.
“The registration should be the hardest part,” said Joseph Gerardi, city codes administrator. “Once the rush is over, we can handle it.”
The ordinance, among many things, requires landlords to provide copies of their leases to the city codes department and to correct certain specified problems that arise, essentially assisting law enforcement as the first line of defense.
It also requires landlords to list their names and address of their properties, how many people occupy them and to provide a name and contact information of a property manager to assist police, codes and fire officials during emergencies.
“We felt on the public safety committee the meeting was necessary because of the nature of the proposed ordinance and with the changes and some controversial aspects to it,” said Councilman Randall J. Allison.
Tabby Nassberg, a city landlord, suggested the law should be written to exempt properties where there are no issues.
“We have a class of tenants … they’re not your problem,” she said.
Landlord Edward Lyon described the often difficult eviction process.
“I can’t easily move to evict or I’ll get sued for wrongful eviction,” he said.
Lyon said a number of corporations rent properties, and he said he can see the proposed law making it difficult to properly document who they are and where they live.
Lyon asked the city officials whether a tenant had to be a resident of Pennsylvania and brought up the problem of already having many ordinances on the books regarding noise, trash and too many vehicles that aren’t being enforced.
“How can you enforce another ordinance when you can’t enforce these ordinances?” he asked.
Lycoming County Commissioner Tony Mussare, a landlord who lives in South Williamsport, was concerned about the exemptions.
The exemptions appear to be properties owned by Lycoming County Housing Authority, hospitals and nursing homes, hotels and motels, on-campus housing and residential units occupied by the owner. Mussare said the number of college students and people living in hotels comprise more people than landlords have living in their rental units.
More than 70 percent of the code violations in the city occur in rental properties, Gerardi said. In a city with a little more than 29,000 people,
based on the last census that’s about 16,000 rental properties, or more than 60 percent of the properties in the city.
Miller said the city isn’t trying to be combative with its proposal, but rather, trying to foster relationships of cooperation to help landlords and tenants and to give police and codes regulations with teeth.
Privacy issues are being worked on but promises of whether the open records law applies can’t be guaranteed.
That doesn’t sit well with landlord Ralph Keller. “I don’t want my leases on file,” he said.
Campana ended the session by saying the proposed ordinance would help nip crime, particularly drug houses, in the bud and improve the health, safety and welfare of citizens.
“We do nothing we resolve nothing,” city Police Chief Gregory A. Foresman said. “It’s about time people become more accountable for their actions.”