Tenets for tenants

By on March 5, 2014

Ephrata Borough Manager RobertThompson discusses a draft proposal aimed at overhaulling the borough’s rental ordinance. Photo by Pat Burns

Ephrata Borough Manager RobertThompson discusses a draft proposal aimed at overhaulling the borough’s rental ordinance. Photo by Pat Burns

Unlike many landlords, Dave Plaksin is OK with Ephrata Borough Council’s plan to overhaul its rental ordinance.

Plaksin, owner of the red-brick Mentzer apartment building on the State and Main street intersection, said it’s fine to strengthen the borough’s leverage against disruptive renters and inattentive landlords.

“Hey, if I have a home or live in an apartment I like, I’d be ticked off by neighbors who treat my block like a dump,” Plaksin said.

But, while Plaksin endorses change, he’s still a bit confused on the proposed amendment. It’s based on Lancaster City’s ordinance, exits only in draft form, and is still a work in progress.
What’s abundantly clear though is the borough’s goal to define the obligations and responsibilities for renters and landlords.

And that’s a good thing says Plaksin.

“The borough needs to explain in more detail just how landlords will be affected,” he said. “The good thing is there’s still time to iron out problem issues before it’s adopted and council is doing a good job listening to feedback.”

The community has provided plenty of feedback to borough officials, who met twice with the Ephrata Review recently to discuss the 16-page draft ordinance.

Most concerns center on the proposed ordinance’s three-strike rule and the fines and penalties assessed for accumulating a trio of strikes (citations) that can lead to an automatic loss of a rental license and eviction.

But this still leaves plenty of gray area, as Plaksin noted.

“Am I going to get a strike on what my tenant does inside the apartment?” Plaksin asked. “Do I get a strike if I report my own tenant?”
The short answer to that is maybe, said Borough Manager Robert Thompson.

“This is where the part of the misunderstanding may be,” Thompson said. “If the tenant’s conduct is what’s causing the problem, the owner doesn’t get a strike – in essence they may – but the owner’s ultimate obligation is to initiate eviction proceedings.”

Strikes can accrue through citations issued by police for disturbance calls or from violations issued by code enforcement officers for anything from vermin infestation, exceeding occupancy limits, or failing to properly cut grass or remove trash and snow from the property.

Thompson said in most instances the strike process will begin with a “notice of violation that sets the clock ticking.”

“A strike is not that we cited (a landlord),” Thompson said. “It’s a strike if you fail to remedy the problem or it’s a condemnation. Three strikes in a 12-month period and a landlord losses the rental license only on that particular unit.”

The timeframe allotted to remedy specific citations can vary from five to 30 days depending on the severity, urgency, and safety elements.

“Each one of these things gives an opportunity to remedy the situation before it becomes a permanent record and the landlord or property manager can still appeal the citation in district court (to avoid a strike),” Thompson said.

The draft of the ordinance will continue to evolve as Susan Rowe, chairwoman of the development activities committee, has compiled a list of issues brought up at four previous public meetings in which it was discussed.

Thompson, Rowe and Dale Hertzog, council president, will meet this week in Lancaster to discuss the ordinance with the staff of Economic Development and Neighborhood Revitalization.

“Much of our ordinance contains sections that are already being used in Lancaster City and Berwick,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes.”

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