The Bath Borough Council held an educational session on Tuesday, July 20, to introduce residents to the proposed rental inspection ordinance.
This ordinance, which has been in the works for over a year, is “for the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens,” said Council President Michele Ehrgott.
The Borough of Bath is home to 423 known rental units, as of 2015.
Under the ordinance, it will be the responsibility of the property owner or manager to keep the property up to local, state, and federal standards. The goals of the ordinance, as stated by Ehrgott, are to eliminate disruptive conduct, ensure a safe living environment, maintain fire safety, ensure properties have proper insurance coverage and up-to-date licenses, ensure properties have trash and recycling services, and limit the number of occupants within units. The ordinance will also work to eliminate absentee landlords, requiring owners not within 20 miles of the borough to designate property managers.
While the ordinance is still in its early stages, council has already decided upon an application system.
Under the ordinance, existing and new units will have 60 days to fully complete rental license applications for each unit. The proposed fee is $80 per unit per calendar year, though this rate is subject to change. This charge will be paid for by the landlord and it will cover up to two inspections. Renewal of the rental license will be required by December 31 of each year. New rental units licensed after July 1 will pay half the application fee.
All units will require an inspection during the first year of the ordinance. The property owner will be given 10-days’ written notice prior to inspection and they must provide the occupant notice within three days. Their rental license could be revoked if this is not adhered to. After the first year, units will require inspection every three years, though an inspection can be carried out if there is a written request by the occupant.
Enforcement will be carried out by the borough’s code enforcement officer. If a violation is found, the owner has 20 days to remediate it. If not, the code enforcer may revoke the rental license. There is a charge of $150 for license reinstatement.
Landlords and occupants must also follow a “three-strikes” policy for behavioral issues. If occupants are found to be disturbing the peace or violating drug laws, an eviction notice could be issued if there are three strikes within 12 months.
“For too long, it has been the Wild West,” said Councilman Frank Hesch. “We have a responsibility to protect residents and their safety…I don’t want it to be crippling [to landlords]; at the same time, I want it to be fair and I want everyone to be safe.”
Mayor Fiorella Mirabito and her husband own rental properties in the borough. She supports the ordinance.
“If you’re a landlord, you should be concerned about who and what is in your building…for me, it is all about health and well-being,” she said to council.
While penalties and fees have not been established yet, Council did discuss the possibility of having landlords pay for extra inspections beyond the two covered by their application fee. Occupants and tenants can forward a complaint to the code enforcement officer if they believe “band-aid” fixes are being used to repair issues. Quick fixes to simply pass inspection were concerns raised by several residents in attendance.
Others in attendance worried about the liability, if any, should the Borough be taken to court by a property owner.
“I cannot remember any enforcement issues that went to court where the borough [or] municipality has not prevailed,” said Jamie Kratz, borough solicitor. He has experience with similar ordinances across the Lehigh Valley.
After introducing the ordinance to residents, fielding questions, and addressing concerns, council believes the ordinance could be adopted as early as this fall and go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. However, the borough plans on holding more council meetings and consulting with residents, tenants, and landlords on this major change.
“We want people to be educated,” said Mayor Mirabito.