At the previous Titusville City Council meeting, Councilman Jason Drake requested that the Titusville Rental Licensing Program be added to the agenda.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the call to discuss the program was well-directed, as landlords and tenants who support and oppose the program were on hand to share their thoughts on the program and what could be changed. The Board has not finished changing any part of the program, but has agreed to form a committee to further discuss the program and possibly suggest changes.
Over the past year, the Titusville City Council worked, discussed, and ultimately approved a rental licensing program. The program replaced a city program that required homeowners to purchase business licenses, which was never enforced.
The city’s new program would require landlords to obtain business licenses to rent properties in the city. A requirement to receive this license is that all rental properties be inspected by the city’s code enforcement officer.
The City charges homeowners for inspections, but allowed those who opted into the program to be exempt from their first inspection fee.
Drake kicked off the discussion by saying he is “categorically opposed to certain aspects of the program.”
Central to his concern is the fact that currently tenants are required to allow the city’s code enforcement officer to inspect their properties. Drake wants to see the program changed so that tenants have the right to refuse. Drake also said that of the 150 inspections that have been carried out, only two properties have failed, and said the program has cost taxpayers “a lot of time and money”.
Mayor Jon Crouch disagreed with this statement from Drake.
“I take a little difference in saying the program is a waste of time,” Crouch said.
Crouch said that before inspections are done, owners are given a list of what will be inspected. Crouch also noted that while only two properties failed, there were numerous hazard recommendations that should be fixed.
Drake also read an email from former city councilman Jason Witosky. Witosky’s letter said he thought the program was intrusive and counterproductive.
The letter also said it’s easy for the board to make a decision that doesn’t affect them, because the board members, aside from Drake, are all owners. In the email, Witosky also included the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which states: “The right of the people to the security of their person, house, papers, and effects, from search and seizure abusive”.
After Drake was done with Witosky’s email, the council heard from city attorney Timothy Wachter.
Much discussion and frustration was raised about the legality of the program, as many other than Witosky believed the program violated the Fourth Amendment.
Wachter said that while the Fourth Amendment is a law the city should fear breaking, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also has privacy protections that have been even stricter.
Wachter, however, said the TRLP does not violate the Fourth Amendment or the right to privacy.
“I don’t see it as a legal issue, I see it as a political issue,” Wachter said, meaning that legally the TRLP is fine, but the issues that anyone might have are related to the policies in square.
Wachter explained that other rental licensing programs he has seen include a policy that if a tenant refuses an inspection, the municipality could obtain an administrative warrant and force entry.
The Titusville program as written does not currently allow for the possibility of an administrative mandate. What the city does, according to Wachter, is license the owners.
An owner has the option of refusing, but he would lose his operating permit. He said that doesn’t force owners into a constitutional question, but strictly requires them to make a business decision.
Speaking on the issue raised by a tenant refusing an inspection, Wachter said it was a private dispute between a landlord and a tenant and the City would not get involved in such disputes. private.
Not only did the council hear from its lawyer, but it also heard from the landlords and tenants present.
The board heard from Ken Leach and Jim Smith, two owners who have a different opinion of the program.
Leach, recently had some of his properties inspected by the program. As a landlord who also owns property in Erie, where they also have a rental licensing program, Leach doesn’t think the program is intrusive.
“It’s not intrusive if they show up one day out of 730,” he said.
Smith, however, said the program was unfair to landlords because it placed higher expectations on them than landlords.
“We have a slum here,” Smith said. However, the slums, according to Smith, are mostly in owner-owned houses.
He said this program caused him to rethink owning property in the city and that he considered evicting all of his tenants and selling his properties.
Councilor Sam Logsdon owns a rental property in the town. He said his tenant is very private and told him he didn’t want anyone in his house.
Logsdon said he would like to see changes to the program, where perhaps inspections are carried out once properties are vacant.
While Mayor Crouch and Deputy Mayor Sara Jones support the program, they said they would be open to discussing it further and making changes if needed.
Jones said she wouldn’t object to reviewing the program’s schedule, to see if there’s a way to have inspections done when tenants move out, but believes the program is important. Jones said she doesn’t own or rent, but she thinks that if Titusville doesn’t have livable rental properties, it’s hard to encourage people to move into the city, live in the city, and live in the city. spend money in the city.
Jones also said that while for the general population asking a landlord to fix something might not be an issue, for some in the community it’s not that easy.
“I work with vulnerable populations who often have no recourse, and because of their circumstances, they have to move into some of the worst living conditions on properties in our community,” she said.
At the end of the long discussion, Councilor Logsdon posed the important question: “What is our step now?” The council decided to form a committee made up of several members of the city council, the code enforcement officer and other key players in the Titusville housing community.
Dvorkin can be contacted by email at [email protected]