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Rental property proposal has landlords concerned

Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Mt. Lebanon officials are seeking public input on a plan to register all rental properties and conduct more frequent inspections, and they may get an earful from landlords who think it will be a burden.

The board of commissioners will hold a public hearing and possibly vote Feb. 25 on the proposal, which would require all rented apartments, townhouses, duplexes and condominiums to be registered with the municipality, inspected for compliance with local building codes and re-inspected every three years or whenever a tenant moves out.

“We have several thousand apartment units in Mt. Lebanon, many of which are over 40 years old and in need of regular maintenance,” said Mt. Lebanon Manager Steve Feller. “This will make sure they get that maintenance.”

Chief Inspector Joe Berkley said the inspections would give landlords a tool to hold tenants responsible for things they break around their apartments: if a landlord has a clean inspection showing all the electrical outlets and plumbing in working order, it's harder for a tenant to claim the landlord was responsible for something they broke, Berkley said.

But landlord Casey Steiner, of Edgewood-based Steiner Realty, said the program was “a solution in search of a problem.”

The Mt. Lebanon Fire Department inspects apartment buildings' common areas about once a year for adherence to the fire safety code. But inspecting interiors of apartments when a unit changes tenants means that landlords or an employee will have to be present far more often to accompany inspectors on a walk-through, said Steiner, whose company owns four buildings in the municipality.

And if a violation is found when a tenant is ready to move in, and the landlord is denied an occupancy permit, they would lose at least a month's rent, if not the tenant, Steiner said.

“My question is, what's the perceived problem?” he said. “They would call it proactive. I would call it expensive.”

Other landlords and management companies, who didn't want to publicly criticize the municipality they'd have to work with, said they didn't anticipate problems passing inspections but agreed the time required for them and fees would be issues.

A similar program had been proposed about six years ago but lacked support among commissioners to proceed, Berkley said.

The 2013 municipal budget includes $31,000 to hire a part-time building inspector to assist with the additional work, but no one will be hired unless the apartment inspection rules are passed.

Feller said the inspection fees — $65 for the initial inspection of each unit, and $25 for each follow-up inspection — would cover the cost of the additional employee.

The hearing is scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday in commission chambers, 710 Washington Road.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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