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West Leechburg landlord upset with rental checklist

| Monday, April 6, 2015, 7:19 a.m.
West Leechburg resident and landlord Troy Jackson sits at his kitchen table with a three-page checklist that landlords must comply with in order to pass inspection of rental properties. Wednesday, April 1, 2015.
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
West Leechburg resident and landlord Troy Jackson sits at his kitchen table with a three-page checklist that landlords must comply with in order to pass inspection of rental properties. Wednesday, April 1, 2015.
West Leechburg resident and landlord Troy Jackson points to a three-page checklist that landlords must comply with in order to pass inspection of rental properties. Wednesday, April 1, 2015.
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
West Leechburg resident and landlord Troy Jackson points to a three-page checklist that landlords must comply with in order to pass inspection of rental properties. Wednesday, April 1, 2015.

For more than 15 years, Troy Jackson has rented out the house that sits in front of his in West Leechburg.

Renting out the home along Giron Street, he said, has been a viable source of supplementary income and has afforded him the opportunity to keep the house that his in-law's grandparents built in the 1920s in his family.

He says there never have been problems with his tenants.

But now, after West Leechburg Council implemented a set of rules that hold landlords and their tenants more responsible for the upkeep of their properties, Jackson fears that he can no longer sustain his rental business.

“To come into compliance with the rules, I would have to spend between $6,000 and $10,000 on the house,” Jackson said. “The house is safe and it's been renovated several times, but it's almost 100 years old.

“There are requirements that it's just not going to meet, and I don't want to pay for an inspection I know will fail.”

The rules that Jackson is referring to stem from a rental ordinance that West Leechburg enacted in October to prevent absentee landlords from buying property in the borough and renting to negligent or disruptive tenants.

In addition to the registration of tenant information, the ordinance calls for inspections initially, annually or whenever there is a tenant turnover or disruptive behavior to ensure the property complies the Pennsylvania's Uniform Construction Code standards.

Prior to the ordinance, landlords were responsible for property maintenance and upkeep under other existing ordinances but were not subject to regular inspections.

The borough is contracting Building Inspection Underwriters of Jeannette to complete the inspections, and early this year, West Leechburg landlords received a letter outlining their new obligations to the borough.

The letter stated that landlords must incur a $50 fee for an initial inspection and, if after two inspections the property is still not in compliance, pay a $35 fee for every subsequent inspection.

The letter outlined a list of regulations under Pennsylvania's Uniform Construction Code that property owners would need to comply with by the time of inspection.

Jackson said several of them pose problems for the old house he rents out.

“It requires that every room has a minimum of two separate receptacles for electric,” Jackson said. “People weren't thinking about that stuff in the 1920s. I would also have to install exhaust fans in the bathrooms, replace the doors so they could be fitted with deadlocks and replace a corrugated wall duct for the dryer.

“I feel like (the ordinance) is punitive to landlords who haven't done anything wrong and are not a part of the problem they're trying to address.”

Larry Carlson, the Building Inspection Underwriters codes compliances official handling West Leechburg inspections, and borough Solicitor James Favero could not immediately be reached.

Council President Gary Bell, though, said he's had a negative response to the ordinance only from Jackson, who did not attend an information council held last year for borough landlords on the proposed rental ordinance.

About 45 landlords rent out properties in the borough, he said.

“No one is being discriminated against here,” Bell said. “It is a state code, not the borough's, and everyone is responsible to comply with it.

“If anything, the ordinance acts as a safety net for landlords and tenants. The landlords don't want disruptive tenants not taking care of their property, and good tenants deserve to be taken care of by their landlords.

“All of the other landlords we've heard back from have reacted positively to it.”

Bell said the ordinance reflects similar rules that surrounding communities have put in place to prevent problems of deterioration and unaccountability. Even in West Leechburg, where a small portion of property is rented, there still exists unsightly property where the lawn is unkept, the structure is blighting and the owner is unreachable.

“We had to do something,” Bell said. “We are trying to protect our residents, not hurt them.”

Bell is encouraging Jackson to attend council's meeting Wednesday so the two sides can work together to reach a solution.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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