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Pittsburgh rental property registry sails through first vote

| Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, 2:38 p.m.

Pittsburgh landlords would have to register leased properties with the city and purchase an annual permit costing $45 to $65 per unit under legislation council advanced Wednesday.

A landlord group has opposed the bill and promised to file a lawsuit to overturn it if it's enacted. Council is expected to take a final vote Tuesday.

Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Mayor Bill Peduto, said the administration has amended the bill to address landlord concerns, adding that he believes it would withstand a court challenge.

He said it would help combat blight in the city caused by irresponsible landlords and has support from neighborhood improvement groups.

“What this does is provide an opportunity for the city to be more aggressive, to have more information, to have the resources, to hold bad landlords accountable, but at the same time provide a pathway for good landlords in terms of inspections and costs,” Acklin said.

Owners would pay $65 per unit for up to 10 units; $55 for 11 to 100 units; and $45 for more than 100. A previous version of the bill required a flat fee of $65 for each unit.

Access so the city could inspect the properties every three years would be required. Pittsburgh would cut fees in half after three years for units that pass a second inspection. Inspections for those units would occur every five years.

The bill requires owners to provide a way for the city to contact them or a legal representative.

John P. Kostelac, founder of Landlords Service Bureau Inc., which represents about 1,200 landlords, mainly from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, said the legislation is unconstitutional and a revenue grab.

“None of those items we would approve, and we would continue our action before the courts,” Kostelac said.

The city projects $1.6 million in revenue from the permits. Acklin said the fees were implemented to cover the city's costs and would be reviewed next year and lowered if necessary.

The city's Department of Licenses, Permits and Inspections would manage the program. Acklin said the city would hire three inspectors to manage the program along with six current inspectors.

The bill passed a preliminary vote by 7-1 with Councilwoman Darlene Harris of Spring Hill against it because of potential litigation and Councilman Corey O'Connor of Swisshelm Park abstaining.

Council separately advanced an amendment to the city's housing discrimination ordinance that would require landlords to accept low-income tenants participating in the federal government's Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8). Under the amendment sponsored by Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze, Section 8 participants could file a grievance with the city Human Relations Commission if they believe a landlord has denied them an apartment based on that rental subsidy.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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