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Pottstown’s Proposed Rental Rules

July 1, 2010

I posted this earlier today at The Mercury (as Number5). The Mercury/First Suburbs project asked for feedback about proposed changes to the rental registration/inspection ordinance.

” Even Keel has hit the nail on the head. The current ordinances were/are not being enforced. Maybe some combination of revisions to the current ordinances would be ideal, although I’m skeptical of yet more layers & tougher sanctions in an environment where the most basic enforcement hasn’t even been tried yet. And Meadowdeb makes a good point: there are existing laws regarding landlord/tenant rights. An understanding of these must be explicitly part of the discussion.

Bottom line: passing ordinances is not that hard. Enforcement is and that’s been the problem. There should be much more discussion about how enforcement would work. Notifying tenants & landlords, scheduling inspections, showing up for inspections, re-scheduling, collecting fees, procedures with the courts, setting up payment systems for each instance where money might change hands, etc. This should all be thought out before changing an ordinance. What will be the day-to-day reality of any ordinance, even the existing ones?

What is the current Codes Dept. capable of handling right now on top of current duties? I admit I have no idea, so I have to imagine… I’m picturing an inspector coming back to the office from a day of inspections and re-inspections. Did he/she record the inspection results in a handheld device? Does he/she sit at a computer and input the data into a database that’s been set up… by whom? Does he/she hand a pile of papers to an administrative assistant? Are there paper files and computer files? How long does it take to send out the letter telling the landlord what repairs need to be done? The next day or a week or a month? How many units are we talking about here? How much time does a landlord get to do repairs? Does the landlord call to schedule the re-inspection, or is it put in the violation letter? Do inspections start in different parts of town simultaneously? Is there one inspector assigned to each ward or do they work all over town? How do you track the data that’s being collected so that you know how many units/buildings you’ve been to and whether your program is succeeding so that you can report the numbers to the taxpayers on a quarterly basis on your website? Just going through this exercise makes me think annual inspections are too much. By the time you’ve closed a lot of files, it’ll almost be time to give 60-day notice for the next inspection. And does any governmental entity really want to be collecting/tracking security deposits??

I’m not ashamed of having been a bureaucrat in a previous life. As a planner, maybe it’s in my DNA. Bureaucracies can be set up efficiently to accomplish a public policy goal, or they can be an unworkable, expensive nightmare. “Good government” – Pottstown has to be going for that. So, what, EXACTLY, needs to be in place to make enforcement a reality? And can the program pay for itself – salaries, paper, postage, computer & database management? Has there been any discussion based on facts – like the number of rental units in town – to justify proposed fees or prove fiscal sustainability?

Is it possible that the current ordinances could get things moving in the right direction & allow the Borough to put the proper systems in place and then re-assess the program after a year or two of operation? In any event, why not take the time now, in a public roundtable setting, to vet any changes or even new enforcement of existing laws with the stakeholders (landlords, tenants, concerned homeowners)? Then allow for Council to have a public discussion and accept public comment over the course of several meetings. It’s good of The Mercury to do this, but it really should be happening face-to-face at Borough Hall, with civility a top priority.

Proceeding with caution & collaborating could avoid lawsuits, save tax dollars in the long run, and get everyone a program that mostly (nothing’s perfect) achieves the desired outcomes: safe & decent housing and neighborhoods, housing stock that maintains or increases in value, and more positive perceptions of the town, which actually have a basis in reality.

Sue
Positively!Pottstown ”

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