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Ephrata Borough Council committee receives more feedback on proposed changes aimed at regulating town’s 2,325 rental units
Landlords and homeowners weighed in again Monday on Ephrata Borough’s controversial plan to put teeth in an ordinance that regulates residential rental units.
Ellen Sweitzer, a homeowner on the 200 block of Church Street said she favors the draft ordinance that borough council believes is necessary to combat growing behavior problems by renters and inattentive and absentee landlords.
“We had trouble with (renters) up the street and we had the police there at least 18 times – but no one would give us the name of the landlord,” Sweitzer said. “Basically it was no sleep all summer. They had 20 people living in there. It was horrible.”
While those renters are gone “and it’s back to a quiet neighborhood,” Sweitzer said the law should provide more options to homeowners living near nuisance renters.
The unofficial multi-point proposal unveiled at a special meeting on Jan. 14 is aimed at forcing landlords to react to disruptive behavior by setting a three-strike limit on tenants while cracking down on absentee landlords.
About a dozen of the same landlords among an audience of 100 people who attended the Jan. 14 meeting delivered objections to the rental ordinance draft at the development activities committee meeting on Monday.
The proposal would require a rental unit owner living more than 15 miles outside the borough to hire a manager; demand that tenant’s names are posted on the property; and oblige landlords to evict three-strike tenants or face fines.
Many landlords foresee legal problems in enforcing the rental ordinance amendment, especially regarding privacy issues related to posting renter’s names and the requirement that they monitor tenant’s behavior.
Paul Rauch, a rental property owner, and Brian Hoffman, a property manager, suggested simpler methods to help police not landlords document violations.
Rauch proposed a plan to compile all leases on a data base that police can access when called to a rental unit.
He echoed the sentiment mentioned by both concerned homeowners and landlords that fear that bad tenants will simply move from one unit in the borough to another.
The proposed online database could also be used by landlords to vet applicants, Rauch said.
“If we have this online system tied into the utility bill system you could pull up a list of occupents, the landlord’s address, the landlord’s email address,” Rauch said. “The borough staff could use it at any time. And then you could see who is supposed to be living there and who is not supposed to be living there.”
Hoffman also suggested that landlords provide the borough copies of leases which could then be scrutinized and strengthened.
Ultimately it would give landlords the flexibility to more easily evict trouble tenants while eliminating the need for an amended ordinance, Hoffman said.
“We could form a volunteer committee that could review rental agreements for adherence to certain standards…I’d be willing to serve on some committee like that,” Hoffman said.
Robert Thompson, borough manager, pointed out that it’s not the borough’s job to ensure leases are properly worded with enforceable provisions.
“We’re identifying what we believe to be issues that are having an impact on the borough and its residents and we’re trying to address those through regulations,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the ordinance would actually empower landlords in removing troubled tenants and possibly save the $135 fee to file a landlord tenant complaint before a district justice.
“The ordinance is requiring you to initiate eviction proceedings and you can point to the borough to say I’m evicting you because the borough is requiring me to do it,” Thompson responded to Hoffman.
Susan Rowe, chairwoman of the development activities committee, said borough staff would examine the public input submitted on Monday and at the Jan. 14 meeting.
An organized list of those comments and questions will be discussed by members of the development activities committee at its next meeting on Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m.