HAZLETON – City council passed an ordinance Wednesday night establishing a registration and licensure program governing city rental properties.
Council members Karin Cabell, Jim Perry and Keith Bast voted in favor of its passage, with Jean Mope and Jack Mundie dissenting. The ordinance directs a registration fee ranging from $25 to $50 for residential units, a $75 flat fee for registration of institutions, and inspection fees ranging from $50 to $70 per hour per inspector.
Many landlords attending the meeting expressed concern regarding the number of inspectors sent out to do the inspections, and how long an average inspection would take. The ordinance also imposes fees for re-inspections.
Justine Crego, president of the Hazleton Area Landlord Organization, said she was disappointed by the passage of the ordinance. She said HALO and its attorney, David Lanza, were working on an appeal to Luzerne County Court. The appeal would provide temporary injunctive relief, preventing enforcement of the ordinance until the ruling was reviewed by the court.
Crego and other HALO members said they believed council and the city's code enforcement should enforce current ordinances as well as hold absentee landlords accountable. She said council could find cost-effective ways to find those absentee landlords.
"Compliant cooperative landlords are already paying all required fees and keeping their properties in good condition," said Crego. "This is unfair to the good landlords."
Betty Hodgson also told council she believed the answer was "getting tough on violators of existing property-related ordinances."
Lanza, addressing council, said he believed the ordinance was an attempt to "close the gaps in the city budget." He said utilizing this type of ordinance to raise revenue was illegal.
"This ordinance violates state law," said Lanza.
Police Chief Frank DeAndrea also advised council many area residents were illegally renting portions of their home, with instances of 15 people inhabiting a small single residence.
"We need to have the ability to identify such illegal practices, so we can correct them," said DeAndrea.
Hazleton City Council's next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 17 at 5:30 p.m.