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Mt. Lebanon rental registry plan raises concerns

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Mt. Lebanon officials are concerned about a proposed rental property registration and inspection program, and cited issues such as costs to landlords and privacy for tenants as reasons for postponing a vote on it.

Commissioners on Monday generally agreed they need to take more time to develop the proposal, which would require landlords to register all rented townhouses, duplexes, condominiums and apartments with the municipality. Each unit would be inspected every three years.

Commissioner Dave Brumfield wanted to narrow municipal inspectors' duties to ensuring that each home is safe to live in, with features such as working smoke detectors and wiring in good repair.

The most recent draft of the ordinance would allow inspectors to cite landlords for flaking paint, crumbling drywall, leaky windows or faucets, missing handrails on stairs or poorly ventilated bathrooms.

Mt. Lebanon has about 3,500 rental housing units.

“I talked to landlords who said, ‘If you limit (inspections) to truly just the safety issues, we could live with it,'” Brumfield said.

“As long as we're inspecting for those things, we're protecting you from your neighbor. ... If that's what it takes to get everyone on the same page, that would be all right.”

After hearing of tenants whose leases weren't renewed when they submitted complaints to the Allegheny County Health Department, commissioners Kristin Linfante and Kelly Fraasch said there should be a way to submit anonymous complaints that wouldn't invite retaliation from landlords.

Currently, a complaint to the health department is the only way to get an inspector to check inside a rental unit without some sort of fire or police emergency.

Commissioner John Bendel said the proposal in its entirety perhaps was too heavy-handed, and needed re-examination so the commission could target its goals.

“I wonder, are we trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer?” Bendel said. “We're going from nothing to inspecting every (rental) property once every three years.”

Mt. Lebanon would pay for a new part-time building inspector through the fees it collects.

Joe Berkley, chief building inspector for the municipality, said his department would do whatever the commissioners want, but emphasized that he thought the inspections were necessary for safety and something landlords and tenants could learn to live with.

“If you live in Pennsylvania and want to drive a car, you have to have the car inspected. If you don't want it inspected, you move to Ohio,” he said.

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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