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Council likes premise of rental bill

| Thursday, March 13, 2003, 12:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh would have to more than double its number of building inspectors at an annual cost of $3.1 million to breathe life into Councilman Alan Hertzberg's proposal to inspect and license the 68,812 rental units in the city each year, the Murphy administration said Wednesday.

That's impractical, several council members said, but they still want to increase code enforcement on absentee landlords and repeat violators. Council voted to hold Hertzberg's bill for a week before referring it to the Board of Code Enforcement or taking a preliminary vote.

Rental properties have become the single largest problem in the West End, Hertzberg said in defense of his plan. Perhaps the city could instead inspect apartments every three years or when landlords come before city housing court, he said.

"We need to find a way to reach the goal within a reasonable cost and practical implementation," Councilman Sala Udin said.

Hertzberg's bill would require every Pittsburgh landlord to apply for an annual license and pay a fee of $25 for each unit and an additional $50 fee for multi-unit buildings. They also would be required to provide the names of every tenant in each unit.

Landlords or tenants who refuse to open their units to inspectors could be subject to search warrants under the bill. Craig Straw, an assistant city solicitor, raised concerns about whether the proposed law would violate constitutional protections and said the Law Department will research the issue.

The city has 22 senior inspectors and six electrical inspectors who conducted 61,000 inspections last year, said Ron Graziano, chief of building inspection. The staff would have to be at least doubled to meet the expanded workload, Graziano said.

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