Huntingdon Borough renters and landlords recently received postcards in the mail informing them of the “Residential Rental Unit” ordinance, which was passed to protect the welfare of tenants.
Huntingdon Borough Manager Chris Stevens believes the new law is needed.
“It’s for the safety of the residents,” he said. “Right now, rental owners are pretty much free to do whatever they want. Now we can inspect the residences to make sure they’re safe.”
Effective Jan. 1, 2020, rental unit owners must apply for and obtain a residential rental unit license for each unit, which will require each unit be inspected.
“It’s for the landlord. They have to have the inspections done. It’s basically to check that there are no bare wires or any other serious safety concerns. If there are deficiencies, like exposed wiring, they’ll be required to fix them. The actual renters don’t have to do anything,” said Stevens.
Borough code enforcement officer Jim Morris will carry out the inspections.
“Our code officer (Jim Morris) will carry out the inspection. There is going to be over a longer timeline,” said Stevens. “He’s going to have to do college units, as well, but once the initial inspections are out of the way, the process of maintaining the license won’t be difficult for the owners.”
Stevens said Morris will begin scheduling inspections with landlords after Jan. 1.
“Some will take longer than others since we have a lot of out-of-town landlords,” he said.
Stevens said the license fees were set as low as possible.
“We tried to set the fees so that they just cover the hours it takes to do the inspections,” he said. “It’s not a money-maker for the borough.”
The cost of licenses are $25 for a house, $20 for a mobile home and $15 for an apartment.
The ordinance was first proposed in April 2018 and was passed in May.
Tom Mincemoyer, owner of Mincemoyer Rentals, owns a number of properties in the borough. He said he’s spoken with other rental property owners in the borough about the ordinance.
“People were just surprised,” he said. “There was a public meeting that was held by the borough when this was first floated and there was a lot of participation. It was not well received.”
Mincemoyer said there were a lot of questions at the time of the ordinance’s proposal.
“To the borough’s credit, they did back off and had meetings, and I participated in that,” he said. “But for the last six months or so I haven’t seen or heard anything about this and all of a sudden—boom. It’s been passed and you have until Jan. 1 to get the applications in.
As a rental property owner, Mincemoyer said he feels the the communication process was lacking.
“It would have been nice for them to have another open session for people to ask questions,” he said.
Mincemoyer owns hundreds of rental in Huntingdon, as well as properties in Blair County.
“I’m familiar with this circumstance from having rentals in the State College area,” he said. “The paperwork part of the process to receive the license is significantly more onerous, but the fees are comparable. And I think the process that was used to inform people and collect input about this was probably lacking.”
Despite his concerns with the process, Mincemoyer said the ordinance itself has a lot of merit.
“I think the intent of the ordinance, which is primarily the safety of the occupants, has a lot of merit. In fact, it’s typical of municipalities to have that sort of thing in place, especially those that have a fair amount of rental housing.”
Nathan can be reached at email@example.com.