Friday, December 10, 2010

Carlisle Borough proposed rental inspection ordinance; Joint task force; SOSO

Click here for the previous post on a proposed rental inspection ordinance in Carlisle.

Yesterday evening, an organization known as "SOSO" presented its proposal for rental inspections, licensing and related costs. As I wrote earlier this week:
The measure would require municipal inspections of every unit every time a new tenant moves in or out. The proposal would create a licensing system for landlords.

The proposal would also create a point system by which private complainants could, by virtue of filing complaints with the Borough, cause landlords to accumulate enough "points" that the Borough would revoke their license. These complaints would not have to be adjudicated in order for points to accumulate. This proposal would violate due process.

The "SOSO" advocates presented a list of municipalities in Pennsylvania that have adopted similar ordinances. The list included municipalities that have lost lawsuits related to their ordinances and were forced to provide refunds to landlords. SOSO did not mention this litigation, despite including these municipalities on their list.

More importantly, the list presented to Borough Council excluded certain municipalities where litigation remains pending currently. SOSO's list made no reference to Berwick Borough, Penbrook Borough and Pittsburgh. All of these municipalities are embroiled to one degree or another in litigation. Berwick and Pittsburgh have been expensive for all parties, while Penbrook has involved numerous smaller actions over individual instances of enforcement (the expense of which is just beginning to be felt). I and others brought some of this litigation to Council's attention during the public speak-out session.

If you are a municipal official, be careful about proposals for landlord regulation. These ordinances have often resulted in litigation, with varying results and costs. Without getting into the details of every legal challenge over the years, my own opinion of the legality of these ordinances is that an ordinance can survive a legal challenge, but only if it is watered down to the point where the municipality will not receive the desired benefit (revenue). Even then, actual enforcement of the ordinance will result in a greater than anticipated burden to the municipality, to the point where enforcement will eventually (or sooner) be abandoned (or will be inconsistent), thus creating a new basis for legal challenge.

Borough Council took no action, but announced the creation of a new joint task force to examine this issue and report to the Council. The composition of the task force has yet to be determined. Proponents of the ordinance immediately attempted to exclude from the task force (under the guise of limiting the task force to Carlisle residents) those of us that had pointed out litigation in other municipalities.

There will undoubtedly be more news to follow in the coming months.

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