Rental ordinance debate advances

By on February 26, 2014

Ephrata Borough on Monday moved closer to establishing a new rental ordinance aimed at curbing disruptive behavior by tenants in the borough’s nearly 2,300 rental units.

Several council members and a 45-member audience attended the development activities committee meeting for the fourth public discussion of a draft proposal to amend the borough’s rental ordinance.

Susan Rowe, chairwoman of the development activities committee, compiled a list of issues brought up – by homeowners, landlords, renters, property managers, and at least one attorney – at the previous three meetings.

“At this point, I think that the committee has more than enough comments to start a discussion,” she told an audience of about 50 people who appeared split on the subject.

While Rowe asked that public comment exclude “the same items that we’ve already recorded,” the discussion moved directly to hot topic issues discussed at the other meetings.

In the end, Rowe broke down 16 different concerns brought up at the meetings from more than 100 different comments presented.

Unveiled at a special meeting on Jan. 14, the proposal puts teeth in an ordinance that regulates residential rental units. It’s aimed at forcing landlords to maintain their properties and react to disruptive behavior by setting a three-strike limit on tenants and landlords.

Of all of the comments received, about 58 percent have expressed specific support for the ordinance while 42 percent specifically oppose it, according to Rowe’s breakdown.

That may be somewhat misleading since not all those who commented neither expressed specific support nor opposition to the ordinance, noted Nancy Harris, planning and engineering manager.

Audience members on both sides of the issue have expressed passionate arguments during the four public meetings in which the ordinance was discussed.

Landlord complaints have previously dominated but supporters of the ordinance have become increasingly vocal.

For instance, Albert Orth, who’s spoken at every meeting, on Monday explained how only a small percentage of disruptive tenants can negatively impact others exponentially.

“I know it’s more than that, but even if you have only 10 percent of renters as disruptive – one in 10 of 2,000 rental units – that’s 200 bad units,” Orth said.

Orth determine that those troubled units could affect as many as 3,500 other residents living nearby. “Is that a small problem? I don’t think so,” Orth said.

James Howard, a Franklin Street property owner surrounded by rental properties, said “I’m all for this ordinance however they can get it through.”

Howard, who has lived in Ephrata for 40 years said “renters were never a problem 20 years ago.” But now, because of a “short list” of inattentive “slumlords,” Howard deals with fruitless police visits to his neighborhood “40 to 50 times, sometimes three and four times a day.”

Borough council, which has supported property owners, will re-examine eight items in the ordinance draft that the committee selected Monday for tweaking, scrapping or revising.

Those include legal questions, definitions, exemptions, utility bills, lawn and snow removal responsibilities, the number of family members per rental unit, and the establishment of a data base for landlords to share information on disruptive renters.

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.

Ephrata attorney Nicholas Ermolovich and rental property owners Earl Hertzog and Brad Rettew, spoke out against the draft proposal as they have at previous meetings.

“I was under the impression most people in Ephrata were Republican,” said Rettew, who lives in Akron. “This is a Democratic plan. The platform of the Republican party is less government. We do not need more government. We need less.”

Council has proposed the ordinance to help police track disruptive renters and provide landlords legal protection to evict troublesome tenants while penalizing and fining those rental property owners who ignore behavior problems by renters.

Howard said landlords should support the ordinance.

“I don’t know why a landlord would want to have people like that in his apartment,” Howard said. “Because all they do is damage to my property, and his property – they’re disruptive and (involved in) alcohol, drugs and stealing,”

Howard, who received applause from the audience, said the current situation in Ephrata is unfair to the majority of good tenants on Franklin Street and other nearby blocks such as Duke and Grant streets with similar disruptive tenant problems.

“The good tenants are hoping this goes through because maybe they won’t have to move from an apartment that they like because of somebody that is an undesirable,” Howard said.

Patrick Burns is a staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455

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