The Northampton Borough Council was presented the latest revision of the borough’s proposed rental inspection ordinance during its workshop meeting on Thursday, April 5. The ordinance is intended to establish regulations for landlords, requiring that they submit registration applications and follow licensing and inspection laws. Council unanimously voted to move forward with revisions of the ordinance and prepare it for public hearing.
However, despite this vote, council-members’ suggestions, concerns, and ideas differed greatly, with some members strongly in support of the ordinance and others expressing it may cause more harm than good.
“This is an ordinance looking for a problem,” said Councilman Tony Pristash, “not a problem looking for an ordinance.”
While Pristash acknowledged it is a “noble cause to have the town looking good for the future,” he worried about the effect this ordinance would have on the residents.
At least 10 percent of Northampton residents are in poverty, a majority of them renters. Pristash said that landlords are going to pass the costs of this ordinance onto those citizens.
Pristash said the borough should look at enforcing regulations for “blighted properties” first. This, he said, includes homeowners.
“We are now in an area we have never been in before,” he said. “[We are] adding more government to this town.”
However, not all members of council agreed with Pristash.
“Unfortunately, government needs to intervene at times when there are issues of safety,” said Councilwoman Judy Kutzler.
Kutzler said this ordinance will hold landlords accountable for not following laws and infringing on the safety of their tenants.
“A tenant should never have to worry about raw sewage coming into their bathtubs,” she said. “You people are not in reality if you think this is not happening here…There is a face to poverty.”
Kutzler stressed that this ordinance is not a way to simply create a job for someone in the borough government, a rumor that has been expressed.
Under the ordinance, the rental inspection fees would be $13/apartment for one to three rentals, $12/apartment for four to eight rentals, $10/apartment for nine to 15 rentals, $8/apartment for 16 to 30 rentals. These costs have decreased compared to the borough’s previous draft ordinance.
“[They are] a little high,” said Councilman Anthony Lopsonzski, Sr., “If you do not want to buy a pack of gum.”
Other members of council believed the ordinance should be simplified.
Councilman Ed Pany said building and health inspectors should be used to inspect rental properties.
The ordinance, he said, “should be simple and down to earth, so you can implement it.”
Mayor Thomas Reenock suggested one way to simplify the ordinance is to scrap it altogether and use the costs that would go toward this ordinance for a full-time code enforcer instead.
“If you make the contacts, you get results,” he said. “Fines go no place.”
By not employing a full-time code enforcer, Mayor Reenock wondered aloud: “Maybe we are some of the problem.”
“We have got to take care of what we have,” he said, greeted by applause from some members of the audience.
Taking the mayor’s and council’s words into consideration, the rental ordinance committee will continue with revisions of the ordinance for the next borough meeting, to be held on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m.