Lebo landlords outraged over proposed inspections

Published Feb 26, 2013 at 10:15 am (Updated Feb 26, 2013 at 10:15 am)

For The Almanac

writer@thealmanac.net

Angry that a new ordinance in Mt. Lebanon establishing a residential rental property registration and inspection program will cost them time and money, a large number of landlords voiced their displeasure to Mt. Lebanon commissioners at a Feb. 25 public hearing.

The bill was introduced Feb. 12 after Mt. Lebanon Fire Chief Nick Sohyda voiced concerns about safety hazards inside individual apartments in the municipality. The ordinance would charge $65 per inspection, and inspections will be done every three years or every time a new tenant moves into an apartment. The ordinance also requires landlords to register all tenant names and phone numbers with the municipality. The ordinance only applies to multiple apartment complexes, and does not extend to single family homes, commercial properties or co-op units.

“This is not an ordinance we dreamed up to make money,” commissioner Kristen Linfante said. “This was brought up by our fire chief because he has serious concerns. Our fire department is trying to keep the community safe.”

But a number of landlords felt the ordinance singles them out as negligent and violates their tenants’ privacy.

“This program could be very expensive,” landlord Saverio Strati said. “It unjustly penalizes property owners. The only true goal is to generate revenue. The fire department already inspects my properties once a year. I’m going to have to label it as a fee to my tenants.”

“The typical rental property owner is not looking to make a quick buck,” real estate agent Benedict Serratore said. “It seems to me they own the properties for the right reasons. They don’t need more hoops to jump through. It’s unfair and discriminatory to have this apply to one type of property.”

According to Mt. Lebanon Inspection Officer Joseph Berkley, there are 2,800 individual apartment units in Mt. Lebanon, and during the past five years, only 40 percent of the units were found to have working smoke detectors. Both Berkley and Sohyda agreed that the ordinance focuses on a tenant’s individual unit and not an apartment building’s utility rooms and common areas.

“Most of our landlords are very good and they work well with us,” Sohyda said, explaining why the ordinance doesn’t apply to single family dwellings. “If I’m creating a fire hazard in my single family home, I’m only putting myself at risk. But if I’m creating a hazard in my apartment, I’m putting hundreds of others at risk.”

The ordinance could be voted on at the commissioner’s March 12 meeting.

“The commissioners will gather the information and decide on the next step,” Mt. Lebanon Municipal Manager Stephen Feller said. “This is not a done deal.”

Landlord Bruce Barcic, who owns 120 apartments in Mt. Lebanon, said the inspections could cost him $7,000.

“We take pride in our properties,” Barcic told commissioners. “This is a solution without a problem. Maybe you can come up with an ordinance for bad tenants.”

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