The Columbia County Court of Common Pleas will shortly hear oral arguments in the case of Berwick Area Landlord Associaton v. Borough of Berwick. Berwick landlords are challenging Berwick Borough's rental inspection ordinance largely on the basis that the ordinance would impose liability on the landlords for the actions of their tenants.
Recent court cases in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have struck down local ordinances that are inconsistent with existing state law (on a variety of issues). This principle can now be applied to landlord-tenant law to prevent municipalities from changing existing state law as it relates to landlords and their tenants. (I am briefly summarizing arguments that have been made by the Berwick Landlord Association in court.)
The oral arguments will provide the last input before the Court decides a "Motion for Summary Judgment" filed by the landlords. Whoever loses in this Motion will file an appeal to the Commonwealth Court. The Commonwealth Court's decision (expected later in 2011 or 2012) will profoundly affect rental ordinances throughout Pennsylvania.
This case is docketed at 2008 - CV - 1873 in Columbia County.
A victory in this case would not invalidate all of the rental inspection ordinances across Pennsylvania, but it would limit many of those ordinances. Many municipalities now consider similar ordinances without knowing that these ordinances (such as Berwick's) are often tied up in court. A victory in this case would cause other municipalities to consider future legislation more thoroughly rather than simply copy the ordinances from Berwick (and others) verbatim.