The Northampton Borough Council held a public hearing about its proposed rental inspection ordinance on May 2. Borough residents, many of them landlords, came out to voice their concerns about the ordinance. Many of them expressed worry over the costs it would inflict upon them. However, several councilmembers countered their financial concerns with safety concerns.
Councilman Robert McHale, a member of the rental inspection ordinance committee, says he believes the committee took all of the landlords’ concerns into account and lowered registration and inspection fees as a result. Any semblance of rental inspection regulation has been absent from the borough since 1978.
The ordinance, which will require apartments to be inspected every three years, McHale said, is a way to ensure apartments are kept in safe and livable conditions, with windows that open and close, roofs that do not leak, outlets that are covered, and fire alarms that work.
“These are basic needs every one of us has in our own homes,” said McHale.
“The function of the whole ordinance is to guarantee safety for the tenant, the landlord, and the borough,” said Councilman Anthony Lopsonzski Sr. “[It] guarantees that their [landlords’] property will not be destroyed and that they [tenants] have a safe place to live.”
Councilwoman Judy Kutlzer, who works with and counsels women in the community, has heard stories of unsafe living conditions firsthand, from no heat in apartments to sewage leaking into apartment basements.
Many of the women she works with expressed fear of speaking up, which could result in their rent being increased.
“When you are a single mom trying to raise your family, you cannot have your rent increased,” she said.
“Unfortunately, government has to intervene when there are issues of safety that have to be addressed,” she added. “A human being should be able to lay down at night and not worry about electrical issues, plumbing issues, and whether their windows open and close.”
However, several landlords in attendance said they believe they are being punished for the actions of a few “bad landlords.”
Attorney Alan Troutman spoke on behalf of landlord Derek Richmond.
“This is an ordinance [that is] vastly overreaching,” he said. He said it will increase costs for landlords, create time delays, and impact their ability to “support themselves.”
Landlord Joan Marinkovits agreed. An owner of a two-unit property, she said this ordinance will put the burden of how tenants should act on landlords. The fees, she said, will be passed onto the tenants.
“I am not paying for [them],” she said.
Two councilmembers echoed the landlords’ concerns.
Councilman Tony Pristash, like Marinkovits, said costs will be passed on to tenants. Meanwhile, Councilman Ed Pany said the ordinance is adding a “layer of bureaucracy” to the borough.
Councilman Lopsonzski Sr. countered complaints of fees being too high. The ordinance will cost landlords of one to three apartment units 26 cents per week, of four to eight units 24 cents per week, nine to fifteen units 19 cents per week, sixteen to thirty units 16 cents per week, and over thirty units 32 cents per week.
“You cannot get a stick of gum at those prices,” he said.
“If the property owners do not understand that we are trying to help them…in five years, please do not tell me how cruddy the town is,” he added.
Council motioned to table the rental inspection ordinance decision until its May 17 meeting.