After a too-long silence and even some reality-defying rhetoric about crime in decline, Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton came out Thursday with his executive-branch barrels blazing.
Along with a tripling the police department’s tactical unit assigned to high-crime areas, Leighton offered what certainly sounds like a serious crackdown on what he argued is a core source of the city’s woes: Problem rental properties.
Leighton proposed a new ordinance that can hold landlords and tenants who know about criminal activity and do not report it to authorities. Consequences can include shutting down the rental operation for up to six months.
At it’s root, it’s a good idea. Communities thrive when everyone works toward the good of that community, and landlords who deliberately ignore suspicious activity in order to maintain rental properties don’t fit that category. As Leighton noted in a Thursday press conference, “We’re not going to permit people to turn a blind eye to criminal activity for the sake of collecting a guaranteed rent check.
Yet the idea is rife with risk and problems.
What due process will assure that landlords and co-tenants do not get punished unjustly?
Will the law apply equally to large-scale rental properties such as the trouble-plagued Sherman Hills complex and to small, single resident homes and two-or-three unit buildings? If not, how will responses be scaled to fit the varied sizes of rental properties?
Does the city really have the resources to enforce such an ordinance, or will properties and landlords slip and slither through holes created by budgetary constraints, making enforcement less than equitable?
And how will the city assure that properties shut down for six months under the new rules remain free of derelicts and squatters, and safe from plunderers and the ever-growing plague of those who brazenly strip metal for scrap sale?
The ordinance idea deserves cautious support, but such questions must be answered before council adopts it.