Rental ordinance passes

City Council heard from law enforcement Thursday, saying nearby communities require registration of tenants living in rental properties – why not Williamsport?

Council passed the ordinance 6-1 after 11 p.m., with Councilwoman Liz Miele voting no and Council President Bill Hall and council members Randall Allison, N. Clifford “Skip” Smith, Bonnie Katz, Jonathan Williamson and Don Noviello voting yes.

Police Capts. Michael Orwig and Timothy Miller argued for passage without any further cuts.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana removed the tenant registration section because, he said, it would not have passed if he hadn’t.

Orwig recalled a July 1 meeting of Montoursville Borough Council in which a council member said landlords owning properties need to invest time in knowing who they’re renting to and not just collect rent from the first person who can pay. Another borough council member said the city was discussing a rental ordinance and if it passes Montoursville may be dealing with more problems.

Orwig continued with the examples of ordinances he said required landlords pay for a business privilege license with the tax office and pay an annual fee. The township landlords are required to list their tenants each year and fill a township tax form and pay applicable taxes.

In neighboring Old Lycoming Township every owner of residential real estate must file a certified list of persons who rent, with names and addresses of each person 18 years of age for a six-month period.

Other cities and municipalities that require registering tenants include Monroeville, near Pittsburgh, and Bethlehem and Easton, Orwig said.

Orwig addressed questions of some on why police don’t target bad landlords.

“We can’t place cameras on streets deemed by police as high crime areas,” Orwig said. “We have tenant drug crime and chronic behavior issues … This ordinance addresses that and is designed to improve life for every one.”

Of the 15,000 calls for service annually, 70 percent are directly related to rentals.

The ordinance penalizes a single firearms or drug violation with closure of the apartment, or three cumulative disruptive behavior citations in a six-month period with notification of possible closure.

Police Chief Gregory A. Foresman said the ordinance is designed to give landlords and police tools it needs to remove drug dealing from rentals.

The law also applies to those committing riot and disruptive conduct or failure to designate a manager for the property, he said.

Craig Rowles, of Isabella Street, a long-time neighborhood watch coordinator who assisted police for years, requested council members leave the teeth in the ordinance.

He said if the law is passed without the tenant registration the city will continue to be plagued by police having to chase suspects they can’t identify.