The Williamsport problem

Rental properties are not the problem.

By far the highest concentration of tenant occupied properties are the properties surrounding Penn College. Penn College took the lead over 10 years ago and adopted regulations requiring any landlord who wishes to be on their approved list be subjected to annual property inspections. The system is not perfect, but the last 10 years or so have seen a resurgence in the area surrounding the college and the number of abandoned neglected properties dwindle to near zero. Penn College had the foresight to see that the number of substandard properties that surrounded the college was directly affecting their bottom line. Penn College did not play the blame game. They took creative initiatives and a leadership position in helping their cause.

The transformation around the college in the last decade or so is remarkable. This was not achieved by any strategy by our city’s administration or any tax breaks for businesses. This was simply done by people who took a leadership role and implemented change.

Landlords around Penn College are not “subjected” to annual code inspections, they “embrace” the opportunity, because these inspections are their tickets to the exclusivity of the Members Only Club that helps line their pockets.

Property values in the historic district around Penn College have quadrupled in the last dozen years. Nowhere else in the city has this happened.

We need good ideas from our leaders. We don’t need opinions and voodoo statistics from those sworn to protect and who have no experience in strengthening neighborhoods, nor a vested interest in the city. They don’t give us solutions, they are just trying to avoid the heat and put the blame on someone else.

Our neighborhoods are being destroyed from their core. Everybody in the city of Williamsport is directly or indirectly a victim of crime.

Because of my position as an executive director of a neighborhood development group, a local landlord, and the chairman of a well-respected preservation group, I am often approached by the citizenry of this community for ideas on a solution to the problem. I have an idea and I know many business leaders in this community have ideas as well.

Step 1 Identify and list every improved tax parcel in the City Of Williamsport.

Step 2 – Remove from the list properties that receive tax bills at their address. In most cases these properties are owner occupied. Once completed the resulting list will be a list of every rental property in the City Of Williamsport. Names and addresses of the owners of rental properties are already available to anyone who wishes to look for them.

Step 3 – It is a requirement of all Williamsport landlords to pay mercantile tax based on their annual gross rental receipts. Compare paid mercantile tax records against the landlord property list. It is a known fact that slumlords and marginal landlords do not pay mercantile tax.

Step 4 – Insert language in the existing property inspection ordinance requiring that all taxes be up to date. If the taxes are found to be in arrears then no rental license will be issued. If no rental license is issued the property cannot be tenant occupied.

Step 5 – Require the designated responsible agent for a tenant occupied property to be a living and breathing individual and not allow someone to hide behind a corporate veil.

If the city collects the mercantile tax, which it is already entitled to do from the landlords, hundreds of thousands of dollars will become available to the city. These dollars can be designated to hire more codes officers, and therefore help clean up the slums.

The above proposal uses existing tax law and simply requires fine tuning existing ordinances.

Good citizens and good landlords pay their taxes. If the city does not have the resources to collect taxes from landlords in arrears an outside agency can do perform the task for them for a predetermined commission.

It is counterproductive to compound additional laws with existing laws. Why add more laws for bad landlords to break? Hold landlords who break the law accountable by removing their right to rent their properties.

Edward Lyon


Submitted by Virtual Newsroom