Northampton Press

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Council passes rental ordinance

Wednesday, May 23, 2018 by AL RECKER Special to The Press in Local News

Mayor says he will not sign legislation, forcing members to vote again

Northampton Borough Council passed the heavily contested rental property ordinance by a razor-thin margin during an emotionally charged meeting May 17.

The legislation, approved by a 4-3 vote, goes into effect Jan. 1, 2019, and covers the 1,365 known apartment units in the borough.

Following the meeting, Mayor Thomas Reenock told The Press, “I will not sign the ordinance. I have 10 days to sign it. I will give my reasons in writing.

“Council will then have to vote again on the ordinance,” he added.

Before the votes were cast, Reenock said he raised nearly a dozen questions regarding the ordinance that were not addressed.

Council President Anthony Lopsonzski Jr., who was absent at the meeting when the vote was taken, will cast the final ballot. If he votes in favor of the ordinance, the tally would change to 5-3. If he votes against the measure, the count would be a tie, and the mayor would be charged with casting the tie-breaking vote.

Lopsonzski Jr. has not yet voiced his opinion on the matter at previous council meetings.

Voting for adoption of the rental inspection ordinance were council members serving on the ad hoc committee, which moved the proposed legislation forward. They include Robert McHale, Judy Kutzler, Anthony Lopsonzski Sr. and Kenneth Hall.

Council members Ed Pany, Anthony Pristash and Keith Piescienski voted no.

The rental property ordinance would require landlords to pay a registration fee for each unit, to allow a borough code officer to schedule inspections of the property, to pay inspection fees and to correct unsafe conditions.

Keith Knoblach, newly appointed code enforcement officer and the borough’s fire chief, will make the inspections. Borough Manager LeRoy Brobst said the borough office personnel will do the paperwork.

The ordinance stipulates a registration fee of $40 for up to three units, $100 for four to eight units, $150 for nine to 15 units, $250 for 16 to 30 units and $500 for more than 30.

McHale, who chaired the ad hoc committee, explained scheduling of recently vacated units would be at the top of the list, so the inspections would take place in time for a new tenant to move in.

Nursing homes, hospitals and hotel units are exempt.

McHale refuted a comment Reenock made during the previous meeting, when he called the fee arrangement “a cash cow.” McHale said if the fees generate an excess balance, they would be reduced. Conversely, should the fees result in a deficit, they may go up.

Kutzler, a staunch advocate for the rental inspections, said, “This is a safety issue. We need an ordinance that clearly defines the requirements of all parties.”

She said the ordinance also protects fire and EMS personnel who may respond to calls at unsafe properties.

In his support for the legislation, Lopsonzski Sr., who is a retired borough police officer, said, in his 30 years as a patrolman, he responded to calls at apartments with unbearable odors. He cited safety aspects of the legislation that will cover first responders, tenants and landlords.

In his opposition, Pristash said, “This ordinance was unfairly applied because we have a lot of good landlords who take care of their properties.”

He called the action by the majority of council voting yes an overreach.

McHale defended the ordinance, saying, “We’re looking at windows that open and close, making sure there are smoke detectors and making sure there are no holes in the walls.”

Pany voiced his objections, saying, “This town is not about to collapse.”

He alleged the borough is acting as big government, adding the borough already has a code enforcement officer, building inspector and others to make inspections.

Several people in the audience also spoke in favor of the ordinance.

Ruth Miller, a landlord, said, “You can’t put a price on health and safety.”

Washington Avenue resident Jim Kucharik agreed.

Joan Marinkovits, a retired magisterial district judge and owner of two rental units, said she is not opposed to the inspections, but rather was concerned that her questions were not addressed.