The Borough of Northampton Council narrowly passed its highly contested rental inspection ordinance 4-3 during its May 17 public meeting. Councilmembers Judy Kutzler, Kenneth Hall, Anthony Lopsonzski, Sr., and Robert McHale voted in favor of the ordinance. Councilmembers Tony Pristash, Ed Pany, and Keith Piescienski voted against.
The ordinance will take effect on January 1. A registry of rental properties will be maintained and inspections will take place regularly by a code enforcement officer. If the rental unit passes inspection, a license will be issued, stating the rental unit is in safe and livable condition. Landlords will be required to pay an inspection fee for each unit.
Borough resident Justin Boandl spoke before council’s vote, saying he was for the ordinance, which puts safety as top priority; however, he said landlords should be given some sort of list to let them know what will be inspected.
Borough resident Jim Kucharik also spoke in support of the ordinance. He said his car is inspected every year, even though he knows it is safe, so apartments should be too.
“It is a safety issue, it is a health issue, it is a fire issue,” he said.
As for the fees, he said, “Forty to fifty dollars is minimal. I would gladly pay it for my neighbors so I am safe.”
Resident Ruth Miller, a borough landlord, agreed.
“You cannot put a price on health and safety,” she said.
However, not all residents spoke in favor of the ordinance. Landlords in attendance spoke against the fees. Some even said the inspections breach search and seizure laws.
“I view inspections as necessary,” said Councilman Ed Pany, “[but] other elements are excessive baggage and big government.”
Councilman Tony Pristash said the ordinance takes a “one percent problem in town [and] drags 100 percent into it.”
“We have a lot of good landlords taking care of their properties,” he added.
Councilman Robert McHale, a member of the rental inspection committee, said the committee took care to make sure the ordinance is not a “cash cow.” If there is excess revenue from the collected fees, those fees will be dropped or reduced the following year.
Councilwoman Judy Kutzler, also a member of the committee, said this ordinance is a matter of safety, not financial gain. It will “provide a standard of living that is humane for all residents.”
Mayor Thomas Reenock, who spoke openly against the ordinance, said the borough has no means of enforcing it. However, council was able to solve this problem by appointing fire chief Keith Knoblach as a part-time code enforcement officer.
Councilman Anthony Lopsonzski, Sr. attempted to assuage landlords’ fears.
“No one is going to go in a home…it is not the evil empire,” he said. “[We are] just looking for someone to help.”