Northampton Press

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Mayor vetoes rental property ordinance

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 by AL RECKER Special to The Press in Local News

Reenock, committee chairman McHale agree to continue legislation talks

Northampton Mayor Thomas Reenock vetoed borough council’s rental property ordinance at the June 7 meeting.

Borough Solicitor Steven Goudsouzian informed council it would need a majority of council and one to override the mayor’s veto.

With seven of the eight council members present, no vote to overturn Reenock’s action was taken. Instead, Councilman Anthony Lopsonzski Sr., a committee member who helped draft the ordinance, made a motion to table the matter. Council concurred.

Reenock said he was willing to sit down with Councilman Robert McHale, committee chairman, regarding the rental inspection ordinance to discuss the legislation and his reasons for the veto.

“My position is to inspire public health, morals, safety and general welfare of the community for all citizens of the borough,” he said.

Reenock mentioned that at a 2016 Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs conference, he attended a course dealing with the property management regulatory toolbox, which was given to the borough manager for council use and to interface with the zoning ordinance for borough use.

“This started out as a rental property ordinance for abandoned and occupied blemished properties and now adds housing occupancy within the Northampton Borough minimum standards for rental proper- ties, violations, penalties for noncompliance and appeals,” he said.

The mayor disagreed with claims that there are more incidents and greater severity of borough code violations at rental properties than at owner-occupied residences.

“When I asked the borough manager (LeRoy Brobst), ‘Do we have incident numbers per year?,’ his estimate was a dozen or so,” Reenock said.

“In the last month, there were no ideas or useful information even considered, written or looked at for additions in Ordinance 1207. Your residence/owner situation was not addressed.”

Reenock said the borough has not been using the uniform construction code, international property maintenance code, international fire prevention, international plumbing, electrical and building codes, as well as municipal codes, ordinances, the fair housing act, HUD housing discrimination complaint, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and others involving disabilities and equal opportunity.

Other issues raised by the mayor involved fees, agreements, leases and appeals by the code enforcement officer.

McHale responded to some of the mayor’s concerns and points, agreeing that a meeting between them could address the issues.

Regarding the appointment by council in May of a part-time person as code enforcement officer, Reenock questioned if the individual was qualified and certified for the post and whether the position was properly advertised.

“It’s nothing personal,” Reenock said to Fire Chief Keith Knoblach, who was recently appointed to the position.

Brobst said Knoblach was the only applicant.

Councilwoman Judy Kutzler, a committee member who strongly advocated for the rental inspections, left council chambers abruptly, while Kathy Novogratz had the floor citing ethics policies and documents, in particular taking issue on a vote by a council member who opposed the passage of the ordinance.

“We have a council person who is a landlord,” Novogratz said. “This constitutes a conflict of interest.”

Although the council member was not named by Novogratz, the person referenced reportedly was Councilman Anthony Pristash.

Goudsouzian said the matter had been addressed and told Novogratz he was not going to permit her to continue on the matter. Despite the solicitor’s insistence that she stop, Novogratz continued and turned to the audience for their input.

“You work for the people of Northampton; take that to the bank,” Novogratz said in concluding remarks to Goudsouzian.

“You can’t tell people how to live. This all should be scratched. Start all over again,” suggested Joan Marinkovits, owner of two rental units.

Borough resident Jim Kucharik equated the inspection of rental units, some structures decades old, with new-construction houses that have to undergo inspections. It was during Reenock’s statements explaining his veto that Kucharik spoke out from his seat in the chambers. His clapping ended when Police Chief Bryan Kadingo said any further outbursts from the audience would have the individual ejected. Kucharik then left the meeting room.