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Allegheny

Pittsburgh's landlord registry stalled in court after 2 years

Bob Bauder
| Monday, March 12, 2018, 5:00 p.m.
Dark clouds roll over the Pittsburgh skyline amid high winds Monday, March 28, 2016 as seen from Mount Washington.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Dark clouds roll over the Pittsburgh skyline amid high winds Monday, March 28, 2016 as seen from Mount Washington.

A Pittsburgh ordinance requiring landlords to register their rental properties and pay permit fees remains stalled in Allegheny County Court two years after Mayor Bill Peduto signed it into law.

A group of city landlords sued in 2016, alleging the ordinance is unconstitutional and violates Pittsburgh's Home Rule Charter. The city did not implement the registry because of the lawsuit.

Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James has ordered City Council to schedule a public hearing on guidelines for implementation of the ordinance and to vote on them. Council last week introduced a resolution that would comply with the judge's order. An initial vote is scheduled for Wednesday.

“I have a lot of questions on this,” said Councilman Corey O'Connor, who voted against the ordinance in 2015 because he suspected it could be illegal. “(James is) saying, ‘Put in these rules and guidelines and then I'll rule on it, but I don't know how I'm gong to rule on it.' Does that mean we win in court if we do this?”

The lawsuit will proceed after council complies.

The registry would require landlords to list all of their rental properties, purchase a registry permit and provide a way for the city to contact them or a legal representative in the event of a problem.

In addition to zoning and occupancy permits, landlords would have to obtain a registry permit each year at a cost of $65 per unit for up to 10 units; $55 for 11 to 100 units; and $45 for more than 100 units, according to the lawsuit.

The ordinance also permits the city to inspect rental properties.

Plaintiffs in the suit include the Landlord Services Bureau Inc., based in North Huntingdon; Collyer Realty Co., based in Mt. Washington; and landlords Michelle Williams of Bethel Park and Santo Policicchio of Bloomfield.

They contend in the lawsuit that Pittsburgh has 68,812 rental units and would reap a windfall in fees if the ordinance is enacted.

John P. Kostelac, founder of Landlords Services Bureau, which represents about 4,200 landlords in the region, called it a tax. He said the city is punishing landlords for blight caused by its population decline and failure to address abandoned buildings.

“This whole thing should be made null and void,” he said. “It is not residential landlords that caused this. It's the city, and every city, every community, that does not look out after their community.”

Mayor Bill Peduto's Chief of Staff Dan Gilman, a former city councilman who supports the registry, said the ordinance is designed to protect the health and welfare of residents. He said the fees are needed to cover costs of implementation and enforcement.

“We crafted this legislation over several years with the guidance of many lawyers and fully believe it's within the legal rights of the city of Pittsburgh to do it,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or on Twitter @bobbauder.

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