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Rental inspection has had impact in Brentwood

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
The Pine Tree Gardens apartments are pictured. Brentwood leaders have spent the last several years revising their rules and procedures for landlord registration and implemented a rental-property inspection program a year ago.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
Brentwood councilwoman Stephanie Fox spots an apartment without a garage door and and structural damage in the garage ceiling.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
Structural damage can be seen at an apartment at Pine Tree Gardens. Brentwood leaders have spent the last several years revising their rules and procedures for landlord registration and implemented a rental-property inspection program a year ago.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
Brentwood councilwoman Stephanie Fox finds a boarded up window at an apartment at Pine Tree Gardens in Brentwood.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
Brentwood councilwoman Stephanie Fox stands near a leaning stairway at an apartment at Pine Tree Gardens in Brentwood.

Deplorable conditions inside one Brentwood apartment complex several years ago prompted borough leader to adopt new procedures regarding inspection of rental properties.

Brentwood leaders have spent the last several years revising their rules and procedures for landlord registration and implemented a rental property inspection program a year ago. The policy calls for Brentwood's code officer to visit all 2,014 registered rental units in a five-year span.

“Homeowners are held accountable to standards and safety for their residents. Tenants and landlords need to be held accountable for the same,” said Brentwood Councilwoman Stephanie Fox, who chairs the borough's planning and zoning committee. “We're going to be aggressive. With violations, with inspections.”

In 2008, Brentwood leaders began requiring the borough's estimated 450 landlords to register with the borough's code office and receive a license from the town, borough Manager George Zboyovsky said. A $10 per unit yearly fee is charged to the landlords and a list of occupants must be presented.

In May 2013, Brentwood adopted a rental inspection program, where code officer Ralph Costa inspects each rental property at least once every five years to ensure the structure is safe.

Since the program began, Costa has inspected 425 apartment units, he said. A $50 fee is charged for each inspection.

“It's a lot of work,” said assistant code officer Eric Peccon, who sets up the inspections with the landlords, where it is required that they be present to enter each unit with Costa.

Costa said he uses a checklist and looks to ensure the structure is safe, that handrails and guardrails are attached and electrical equipment is up to code.

The biggest problem so far has been the lack of smoke detectors, Costa said.

“They don't have them, they're not in the right spots or they don't have batteries,” Costa said.

Rental properties must have one smoke detector on each level and one in each bedroom.

The second-biggest problem, Costa has found, has been electrical deficiencies.

Seventeen-year Brentwood resident P.J. Steele, 38, who began renting out his old home in Brentwood last September when a sale of the property fell through, said he wants to see landlords and homeowners held to the same standard.

“You shouldn't be able to walk down the street and tell which home is a rental property and which one a person owns,” said Steele, whose property has yet to be inspected under the ordinance.

Loretta Pollack, 73, who has lived in an apartment on Brownsville Road since 2002, said she wants to see borough officials checking inside the buildings, “because of the hoarders” and animals that run throughout the buildings.

Ralph Siller, 72, who has lived in a Brownsville Road apartment for 10 years, said his building was inspected within the last year and the exit lights were fixed after the inspection.

“You have to have rules or the landlord would let this place go to crap,” Siller said, noting the apartments in Brentwood “aren't the downtown luxury” style living.

Landlords are given several chances to pay the $10 registration fee, said Peccon. If they do not pay, the landlord can lose their rental license, receive a citation and be charged $150 to get their license back.

In the last several months, the code officers have placed notices at 12 rental properties, they said. Half were for not paying licensing fees, the other were for not following through on the inspection upgrades.

After the notices were posted, the landlords complied, they said.

Borough leaders continue to tweak the rules as needed, including adopting an ordinance, based on state code, this year that would allow Brentwood to go after a landlord's personal assets if they did not comply with the rental registration, Zboyovsky said.

That triggered one rental property owner to comply, he said.

Most times, code officers have to enter a rental property at least twice, Costa said, first to inspect the buildings, then a return visit to ensure changes have been made.

“We're finding some that are really bad,” Peccon said. “But a lot of them, we're finding that they're not terrible, they're just old. There's just safety issues, things that could come back and bite somebody.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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