WILKES-BARRE — Before Steve Franco fixes any more houses in the city, he’d like to fix the building code.
There’s only so much he can do as a landlord with Good People Good Homes LLC, and it’s limiting his investment here.
“We can’t buy any more in the city of Wilkes-Barre. I can’t put money in what I can’t do the work,” Franco said last week after failing to get support from council to consider changing the code.
He is not allowed to do his own work in the two properties and has to hire contractors licensed in the city.
“According to the law, I can’t change an outlet,” Franco said.
Homeowners and licensed contractors can apply for permits at City Hall for work to be done on primary residences. Once a homeowner obtains a permit, it’s that person’s responsibility to see that the work is done and inspected. The fees vary depending on the overall cost of the project.
That’s not likely to change any time soon, said Drew McLaughlin, the city’s administrative coordinator.
If an exception is granted for landlords such as Franco, what’s to stop out-of-town property owners from bringing in their own contractors from outside the city. If they want to do the work, they have to pass the city’s tests.
“Our code department, their strong recommendation is not to loosen their testing requirements at all,” McLaughlin said.
“With the testing program, the main point is public safety,” he added.
But Franco countered he and his in-house people can do the work on their properties in other places like Pittston, Edwardsville and Nanticoke. The inspectors in those places know what’s going on and look for work being done on properties, he said.
“I can’t see how its safer the way (Wilkes-Barre is) doing it. I can see how its traditional,” Franco said.
He has proposed charging landlords or non-licensed non-occupants who pull permits a higher permit and inspection fees as a way for the city to generate revenue. In addition, include in the non-licensed permit a signed admission by the recipient to ensure there is a final inspection.
“Once a permit’s pulled, I put a bulls eye on my back,” Franco said.
To make the process run smoother, Franco, who also runs a software company, offered to develop software and donate to the the city a database for permits. The system would automatically remind inspectors to check with permit holders on the progress of work and ensure that jobs don’t fall through the cracks, Franco said. The permit information and whether the inspections pass or fail could also be put on the city’s website for the public to view.