Landlords in Mt. Lebanon object to plan for inspections

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A proposal to register and inspect rental housing in Mt. Lebanon has drawn criticism from local landlords.

Owners of apartment complexes and other rental property objected at Monday's municipal commission meeting. They cited a variety of concerns, from the costs they would incur for inspections to perceived governmental intrusion.

Mt. Lebanon's ordinance would require inspections when rental units change from one tenant to another, and the stated goal is checking all of the municipality's 2,800 units on a three-year rotation.

The proposed measure comes at the request of fire Chief Nicholas Sohyda, who addressed some of the questions raised Monday during a lengthy segment of the meeting dedicated to a public hearing about the ordinance.

Mr. Sohyda said a primary motivation is to ensure that potential safety hazards in individual units of multiunit structures are not "putting other residents of that apartment building at risk."

Many landlords have taken a different point of view.

"This ordinance will only create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy," Saverio Strati of Willow Drive told commissioners, citing state law that covers landlords' obligations to make necessary repairs in the name of safety.

He also mentioned the cost, listed at $65 per inspection, which he said would end up being passed on to renters.

Other landlords also brought up issues concerning the added expense, which prompted Commissioner Kristen Linfante to reiterate the municipality's reasons for considering the ordinance.

"This is not an ordinance that was dreamed up by commissioners so that we can make money off landlords," she said. "Our fire department is trying to keep the community safe."

Some landlords took exception to intimations that their properties should be subject to extra scrutiny.

"I enjoy doing maintenance and keep the properties up," said Robert Egeland of Locust Lane, who owns several rental duplexes. "We work hard to keep up the inside. We work hard to keep up the exterior architecture."

He also expressed concern that the ordinance might represent a breach of tenant privacy.

"That's an important consideration to us," he said.

Benedict Serratore of Standish Boulevard said many people make real estate purchases in Mt. Lebanon "with the expectation their property will appreciate. Owners are already motivated to properly maintain their properties."

He also alluded to the bureaucratic implications of the ordinance.

"I feel this is contrary to the trend of less government," Mr. Serratore said, adding his opinion that "this ordinance only invites challenges to its legality."

Bill Lewis of Ridgeview Drive, who said he owns rental property in another municipality, questioned the potential added liability for the municipality if an accidents were to occur following the inspection process.

He did, however, agree with the overall concept of the ordinance.

"I think there's a lot of property in Mt. Lebanon that needs serious maintenance," he said.

Monday's public hearing served as an information-gathering component in the process of the commission making a decision on the ordinance, which could be subject to further revision before it comes up for a vote, probably next month. Commissioners encouraged landlords and other interested parties to continue to provide feedback until then.

neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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