Windber was recently named the best town in Somerset County in which to live.
After last week’s action by borough officials, we have a better understanding of why that is. Rather than force an unpopular rental ordinance on its residents – like Johnstown and Westmont have done – Windber officials decided to handle problem areas in a different way.
After months of careful contemplation, Windber council members came to the conclusion that they can take care of nuisance housing by tweaking existing laws instead of creating new ones.
“In the end, council decided they have enough ordinances at their disposal to take care of a lot of these issues,” Borough Manager Fred Oliveros told reporter David Hurst.
“But they are mostly pretty old laws. They need to be brought up to date.”
Those laws target, among other things, abandoned refuse and old, neglected cars on properties as well as fire-gutted homes and dangerous equipment or materials.
Windber also uses the International Property Maintenance Code for guidelines regarding unsafe structures.
The borough opted to update those remaining laws and crack down on some instead of forcing landlords to register properties annually or when new renters move in.
Landlords in Johnstown and Westmont undoubtedly wish their local leaders would have followed a similar path.
The controversial regulations passed by city council in March will force Johns-town landlords to register each of their rental units with the city annually.
There is no cost for that, but the mandatory inspections for rental units are not free. They could cost $75 for a single-family dwelling and $100 for a duplex or two-family dwelling.
Westmont’s ordinance, which was passed in September, is even more expensive for landlords and, ultimately, renters.
The borough is charging a $50 registration fee per property, and that must be paid each time tenants change.
On top of that, Westmont requires a borough inspection of each rental unit every three years. That costs $125. Landlords with multiple units will be charged a $100 minimum with additional fees depending on the length of the inspection.
Landlords don’t like the new ordinances in Johns-town and Westmont because it costs them more money. Those fees will be passed on to renters, meaning that it will be harder for landlords to find tenants. Those higher costs could send prospective tenants looking for other areas in which to live.
Quite possibly, they’ll end up in a more resident-friendly area – like Windber.
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