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Wilkins officials nix delinquent-tax ordinance

| Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

Wilkins won't be following Turtle Creek in passing a law to make tenants pay their landlords' delinquent real estate taxes.

At their meeting Monday, Wilkins commissioners voted against pursuing an ordinance similar to one Turtle Creek passed in July, which is based on an obscure 1945 state law.

"I just really felt that it was muddying the water with the existing remedies," Wilkins Commissioner Sharyn Fialla said Tuesday.

Turtle Creek is sending letters to tax-delinquent landlords and their tenants notifying them that renters should send their monthly rent payments to the borough. The money will pay off landlords' delinquent real estate taxes. Since April, the borough has collected $16,000 in taxes, penalties and interest on nine properties, borough secretary Julie Pantalone said. It will fine noncompliant renters $500 monthly.

North Braddock and Shaler have inquired about the ordinance, Wilkins and Turtle Creek officials said.

Shaler Manager Tim Rogers said he does not anticipate the township enacting any legislation, but he does plan to share information about the ordinance with the North Hills Council of Governments, a coalition of 19 Allegheny County municipalities.

Legal experts said municipalities might think it is easier to pursue renters for money because the court process of seizing landlords' assets to satisfy liens is lengthy and expensive.

Wilkins officials nixed moving forward with such an ordinance, saying it provided no protection for tenants against landlord retaliation, such as evictions or utility cutoffs.

The Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 should protect tenants' rights, but passing the tax ordinance still could lead to a court fight between tenants and landlords, said real-estate lawyer Andrea Geraghty, a partner in Downtown law firm Geraghty + Associates.

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