State College Borough Council held a public hearing Monday night to get student and long-term resident’s opinions on the property maintenance code that has been under review for more than a year.
Despite not having a clear path of how to handle the revisions and some public concern over its effects, the council voted (almost unanimously) to approve the code.
“It doesn’t seem we have a community consensus on what we want to do with this,” Councilman Evan Myers said. He added there are a lot of issues which need to be discussed further before the council is ready to vote. Myers was the only member of the council who voted against approving the measure.
The majority of the code clarifies borough requirements for issues such as fire alarms and windows, but certain issues have garnered opposition.
“There are things that’ve been added to the code that I think are off the wall,” local landlord Pat Vernon said. Vernon said he opposes the Borough assigning housing violation points to properties in addition to monetary fines. “It’s adding insult to injury,” he said, “and it’s like triple jeopardy.”
One place the triple jeopardy Vernon spoke about could come into play is the indoor furniture violation. This addition to the code makes it a violation in the borough to store upholstered furniture outdoors, unless placed on the curb for removal. The violation can be administered by either the police or municipal enforcement office, and carries a $150 fine in addition to a one-point punishment.
“It’s so complicated and convoluted. You really need the readers digest version of this. I have my lease in plain language, this should be in plain language. You really shouldn’t have to look back four or five pages to understand it,” Vernon said of the code’s wording.
While the outdoor occupancy limit of fenced in yards has been removed from the code revisions, it will be discussed at a later date if a separate ordinance should be enacted. Some have dubbed it a “Party Registration Ordinance,” but no official motions to enact one have been made by the council yet.
Penn State student Austin Camacho told the council this decision would limit the ability of student groups to host charity events.
“If you have these occupancy limitations we won’t be able to have the same amount of people at philanthropy events. We really need to rethink these ordinances,” he said.
In addition to these issues, local residents are worried about the assignment of housing violation points. The points, called Nuisance Property Points, are assigned for a number of housing violations, which include illegal pets, drugs, rape, and issues such as the aforementioned interior furniture violation. 10 of them will suspend a housing lease. Landlords aren’t notified of violations until their properties receive five points, but the daily max is three.
“The thing that concerns me about the point system are things that are a crime. For example, a rape. I would have no way of knowing that a rape is going to happen at my property. The same thing is true about drug violations,” State College resident Ralph Nicastro said.
Nicastro said he doesn’t have a problem with the point system, but landlords need to be notified before five points so they can take action.
Despite the problems, assistant borough manager Tom King said the point system is working. “The 2010 point report was 89 pages long. The 2017 report was 50 pages long,” he told the Council.
“These are not nuisance issues. For the safety of everyone, including neighboring tenants, I urge you one more time to allow the daily point limit to be increased to five so landlords can get involved,” Susan Venegoni said. Venegoni is the former president of the Highlands Civic Association and local landlord.
She has asked the council to increase the daily limit multiple times on the grounds that some issues, like rape, are too serious for landlords not to be notified.