Pottstown Nets $110,000 In Unpaid Water Bills Through ‘Landlord Shutoffs’

POTTSTOWN, PA — When the third financial quarter started in July 1, nearly $200,000 in unpaid water and sewer bills loomed over the borough system’s finances.

By July 29, that number had been cut by more than half as the result of the borough’s fourth round of “landlord shutoffs.”

“It was very rewarding,” Bob Plenderleith, the borough’s utilities administrator, told the Pottstown Borough Authority last week.

“That level of return is outstanding,” said Finance Director Janice Lee.

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/general-news/20140826/pottstown-nets-110000-in-unpaid-water-bills-through-landlord-shutoffs

Dunmore May Condemn Homes Where Drugs Are Sold

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DUNMORE, PA – Drug dealers who settle in the borough may soon find themselves homeless.

Borough council next month will consider amending Dunmore’s building code ordinance to temporarily condemn homes and apartments where people are selling or manufacturing drugs.

“A one-time zone violation of drug activity on site will result in immediate closure of the property,” solicitor Thomas Cummings told councilmen on Monday. “It mirrors (ordinances) used by other communities in an effort to stem the drug problem which … destroys the neighborhood, destroys the property value and just creates a downward spiral.”

Borough lawmakers were already thinking of doing more to combat drugs when Dunmore police and Lackawanna County detectives found a large cache of drugs and related paraphernalia at a Prescott Avenue home last month.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/dunmore-may-condemn-homes-where-drugs-are-sold-1.1668476

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Bridgeport Addresses Issue Of ‘Amateur Landlords’

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Montgomery County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BRIDGEPORT, PA — Over the past year, many residents and landlords have complained at borough council meetings about overcrowding of and conditions at rental properties.

In response to these complaints, borough council has provided funds in the 2014 budget for a program to help resolve the issue of amateur landlords.

At its Feb. 11 meeting, council discussed hiring a third-party inspector to handle rental properties in the borough.

Read more: http://www.timesherald.com/general-news/20140214/bridgeport-addresses-issue-of-amateur-landlords

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New Rental Policy To Take Effect In Conshohocken

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Montgomery County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

CONSHOHOCKEN, PA – Under a new residential rental policy that takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, landlords will have to live within 12 miles of the borough or designate a person to make decisions for them in case of an emergency.

The borough council in June unanimously passed the ordinance, rewriting what officials said had been a patchwork rental code.

Under the new ordinance, each rental property requires an annual permit, and code inspections will be conducted every other year.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/20131226_New_rental_policy_to_take_effect_in_Conshohocken.html#7kE6SRFgk012F7W6.99

Wilkes-Barre Landlord Loses ‘One-Strike’ Appeal

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After losing his appeal, the owner of the first apartment shutdown by Wilkes-Barre‘s one-strike ordinance said he’s taking the city to court.

Red Hill resident Adam Peters, whose rental unit at 216 Carlisle St. was closed by the city in September after his tenant was arrested for dealing drugs, asked for the penalty to be repealed during a hearing at city hall Tuesday. The housing appeals board unanimously upheld the first use of the city’s one-strike ordinance, which allows it to shut down rental properties for six months if they’re the location of a drug or weapons crime.

Peters said he’ll take his appeal to a judge in Luzerne County court. Peters’ attorney John Bradley said he’s also going to challenge the ordinance’s constitutionality. He hasn’t decided whether he’ll do so in county or federal court.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/w-b-landlord-loses-one-strike-appeal-1.1588473

Housing Crisis: Rising Prices, Fewer Options, Long Waiting Lists Make Finding A Livable Space Difficult

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jessica Castro in September moved herself, her daughter and her son, ages 10 and 9, into a one-bedroom apartment, sacrificing elbowroom to save on rent.

“What I need is a three-bedroom,” said Castro, 36, but it wasn’t in her budget. Even two-bedroom units were beyond her means as she worked 40 hours a week plus a second part-time job.

She now frets over how long her kids will tolerate the tight squeeze.

Thousands of renters across Lancaster County can identify with Castro. They’re priced out of decent, right-sized housing and settle for cramped, substandard quarters.

Experts warn that the shortage of affordable units is at the point that working people will leave the county to find a place to live.

Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/917486_Housing-crisis–Rising-prices–fewer-options–long-waiting-lists-make-finding-a-livable-space-difficult.html#ixzz2l1Rw7Kn6

Norristown Municipal Administrator Responds To ACLU Lawsuit

Location of Norristown in Montgomery County

Location of Norristown in Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NORRISTOWN — Norristown is standing by its rental license ordinance as it is written and declared in a statement that in no way does it “discriminate against any persons, nor does it punish victims of domestic violence.”

The Norristown ordinance penalizes landlords and encourages them to evict their tenants when the police are called to a property three times in four months for “disorderly behavior,” including responding to incidents of domestic violence, according to the federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday.

“The ordinance provision currently in effect contains all of the constitutional due process provisions required to protect the residents of Norristown,” said Norristown Municipal Adminstrator

 in the statement released Thursday, “explicitly stating that no property shall be condemned for any reason under Norristown’s property maintenance code based on occurrences of disorderly behavior, and stating that no tenant shall be evicted or forced to vacate a rental dwelling for violation of the ordinance provision.”

Read more:  http://www.timesherald.com/article/20130426/NEWS01/130429637/norristown-municipal-administrator-responds-to-aclu-lawsuit#full_story

Rewrite Of Pennsylvania Property Tax Sale Laws Is Tool In Blight Fight

Map of Pennsylvania, showing major cities and ...

Map of Pennsylvania, showing major cities and roads (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  This can’t happen soon enough!

HARRISBURG – Affordable housing advocates are urging a reform of Pennsylvania’s property tax sale laws to help fight blight in both large cities and small towns.

They want to overhaul a system that allows speculators to obtain a lien on property at tax sales by paying delinquent taxes and yet not go the next step and obtain clear title.

Other legislation being sought would give long-standing residents the opportunity to take ownership of homes in cases where the recorded owner has abandoned them and put more restrictions on who can bid at property tax sales.

Rewriting archaic tax sale laws that date to the 1920s and 1940s is seen as a way to help fiscally distressed cities rebuild their tax bases and help get newly authorized land banks off the ground.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/rewrite-of-property-tax-sale-laws-is-tool-in-blight-fight-1.1414337

Landlords Vent Over Reading’s Quality-Of-Life Program

Reading City Hall on the NRHP since April 13, ...

Reading City Hall on the NRHP since April 13, 1982. At 8th and Washington Streets, Reading, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer walked into the lion’s den Tuesday night, answering hardball questions hurled by local landlords in the Real Estate Investors Association.

They were angry at the $505 cost of a half-hour codes inspection for a rental property.

They were livid at what they called the Gestapo mentality of city inspectors, and warned that sooner or later some landlord will hurt them because of their attitudes.

But they vented mostly about the quality-of-life program, with its $25-and-more tickets, which began in early 2011.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=383644

Landlord Ire Over Philadelphia Gas Work’s Lien Policy

YOU’D ASSUME that Gail Newman is using hyperbole when she calls the Philadelphia Gas Works a “fascist” regime run by “devious gangsters” relying on “Mafia-like” tactics to shake her down for $15,000 worth of natural gas she never used.

Bit over the top, right? Turns out, Newman’s not the only one who feels that way.

“They know they can extort the money . . . ” she said. “I’m just a middle-class person trying to make a buck, and they’re taking their boot and squashing us. I’m so pissed!”

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20120217_Landlord_ire_over_PGW_s_lien_policy.html

Pottstown Civic Activists Stage Rally Against Deadbeat Slumlords On King Street

Teri Lyn Jensen-Sellers and Katy Jackson, both neighborhood residents, organized a rally today to protest “landlord” Andrew Soule’s $10,000+ in back payments for sewer/water/trash to the Borough of Pottstown and the condition of his buildings in the 400 block of King Street.  Reporters from The Mercury, The Pottstown Patch and Roy’s Rants were on hand to document the effort of this group to draw attention to this huge problem plaguing Pottstown.  Absentee landlords with blighted properties and overdue bills are straining Pottstown’s already stressed tax base.

The Borough of Pottstown is owed over $700,000 in back water/sewer/trash payments from 200 people.  The top 10 people on the Pottstown Wall of Shame owe nearly $200,000.  As Pottstown Borough Manager Jason Bobst has stated, “It’s all the same people that we see time and time again.”  Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski uses the Hall of Shame tactic in Allentown very successfully.  Mrs. Jackson recently attended a webinar on this subject hosted by Allentown’s mayor to learn more about how other towns and cities are coping with this problem.

Mr. Soule was evidently on the scene when the first protestors appeared, but left upon their arrival.  Mrs. Jensen-Sellers questioned a man but he denied being Andrew Soule.  A neighbor stated it was Mr. Soule after the man departed.

Sixth Ward Councilor and Man of the People, Jody Rhoads was on the scene as the sole representative of Pottstown Borough leadership along with Gallery on High/Gallery School co-founder Cathy Paretti and Andrew Monastra, a real estate lawyer with an office in the borough.  A Code Blue member was in attendance as well as other concerned borough residents.

I interviewed two former tenants of Mr. Soule, both of whom had unpleasant dealings with the landlord.

Both Mrs. Paretti and Mr. Monastra shared their feelings about doing business in Pottstown and the challenges of being a business owner here.  Both see the potential Pottstown has to offer but understand that many things need to change before Pottstown can follow in Phoenixville’s footsteps.

Pottstown Council Meeting Highlights – 10/12/10

The meeting was called to order by President Toroney.

Councilors Allen and Gibson were not in attendance.  (Councilor Allen arrived late, after the roll call was taken.)

Minutes were approved.

Comments from the peeps (full house tonight)

A member of the Human Relations Committee requested locks on doors and file cabinets.  Currently they have neither and sensitive documents are stored at committee member’s homes.  They also requested a computer and a database. (Now there’s a thought in 2010!!)

A condo owner from the Light Foundry complex told council that the condo owners pay their association fees each month to a manager who is supposed to be paying the bills for the complex.  This person is not doing that.  Their water is scheduled to be shut off this month.  They cannot afford to pay their bills twice.  They owe the borough $13k!  They are paying $200 a month for association fees that should cover water/sewer/trash.

A resident from E. Second St. said there is trash everywhere and the rental/Section 8 people make a mess.  The street is mostly renters.

A property owner spoke against the new rental ordinance.  He said he feels the Sunshine Law was broken and that the ordinance content has changed since being presented to the property owners.  He also stated that the ordinance does not meet the plain language guidelines as dictated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

A Pottstown landlord and realtor said she hears all the time that Pottstown is too difficult to work with from investors and prospective homeowners are also not interested in Pottstown.  She also objected to some language in the new rental ordinance.

Another landlord said he felt the Sunshine Law was broken by Council and the Borough Manager.  President Toroney vigorously defended Council and Jason by stating that this has been discussed at the last 5 or 6 public meetings and in many committees for months.  Council has been continuously advised and given drafts of the ordinance in progress.  Pottstown’s new rental ordinance is based on the Gettysburg Pennsylvania ordinance. 

http://www.gettysburg-pa.gov/applications_forms/regulated_rental_unit_application.pdf

http://www.gettysburg-pa.gov/applications_forms/regulated_rental_unit_addendum.pdf

Another opponent of the rental ordinance spoke.  She said she doesn’t think Pottstown has sufficient code enforcement officers to enforce the new ordinance.  The new ordinance gives Codes the power to direct landlords to evict tenants.

Jeff Leflar (Code Blue) read an excellent and fact-filled prepared statement outlining Pottstown’s current demographics and spoke against the low-income riverfront senior housing proposal. 

Mary Beth Lydon (Code Blue) spoke against the low-income riverfront senior housing project.  A petition was presented to council with over 70 signatures opposing the senior project.  Many people Code Blue talked to at the River Festival on Saturday were not aware of this project and did not support it.  She also outlined this demonstrated a lack of communication from the borough to its residents.

Another investor/landlord spoke against the proposed rental ordinance.  He referred to it as heavy-handed.

Yet another investor spoke against the rental ordinance.  He said it was draconian.  There are provisions for jail time for infractions.  He feels this ordinance is a turn-off to investors.

A previous Pottstown landlord spoke against the proposed rental ordinance.   It gives Code Enforcement too many powers and Pottstown doesn’t enforce the code already on the books so why are we adding more?

Another speaker was against the proposed rental ordinance, especially the security deposit language (he wants that deleted).  It’s open season on landlords.  The ordinance is heavy-handed and favors owner occupant vs. investors.

Another Pottstown landlord requested common language be used.

Katy Jackson (Code Blue & CPR) spoke about a property at 117 Washington St.  The police have been there 10 times since January!  Three police visits occurred between 9/10 & 9/11 (fight).  The renters are dangerous and have weapons.  The neighborhood needs stabilized.  She again called for a Task Force to be created to handle this problem.  Katy stated that Code Blue & CPR want the good landlords to stay in Pottstown!  She also spoke against the low-income riverfront senior housing project stating that Pottstown already has enough of this type of housing and adding more will create a stigma.  We can do better!

A North Charlotte Street resident complained to council about illegal activity (drug use, loitering and a shooting) in her neighborhood.  The police are called but if they don’t see it, they can’t write up a report.  Between January and June of this year she called the Pottstown Police Dept. 20 times.  The problem is a rental unit and the tenants.

A resident spoke in favor of the low-income riverfront senior housing project.

The Rector of Christ Episcopal Church spoke in favor of the low-income riverfront senior housing project.

A neighbor of the woman on N. Charlotte Street said he wishes he could move.  Ever since the shooting, right in front of his house, he feels unsafe and is very worried about his children.  He won’t allow them to be downstairs and they avoid windows.  They were home the night of the shooting, which occurred right in front of their living room window.  He stated he now owns a gun.  He has gotten into altercations with the rental tenants.  He stated no police came after the shooting was called in.  He said it was caught on surveillance tape.

Whew!  That was a LOT of speakers!

Mayor’s report – Puppies and sunshine everywhere.  All is well.

Manager’s report – Construction has begun on the Norfolk Southern bulk transfer station on South Keim St.  We can expect the railroad crossing to be upgraded as the result of construction (Hallelujah!).

There will be a store front wiindow decorating contest downtown for Christmas.

There is a cooperative effort between PSD and the borough to rehabilitate 22 E. Second Street, using PSD students.

There is a group that uses the Schuylkill River to promote tourism and marketing for towns in our area.  Jason attended their meeting.

As a result of the First Suburbs initiative Pottstown, Norristown and Coatesville are talking about Section 8 housing issues such as vouchers and inspections with HUD.

If all goes well in November they can advertise for the new PAID Director position.  That won’t come SOON ENOUGH IMHO!

Due to declining attendance, Jason is looking to have one last joint Ward meeting on November 10th at the First Church of the Brethren on York St.

On October 20th, Norristown and Pottstown will have a joint council meeting here in Pottstown to discuss common issues.

Jason is trying to organize a meeting between Council and PDIDA to work with existing business owner’s downtown.

It’s budget time.  One item Jason mentioned was that for years 3, 4, & 5 it was hoped that Rickett’s would have become self-sustaining. Until he speaks with Olivet about the borough’s contribution for Rickett’s, that is a gray area for the budget.  Money was not budgeted for those years hoping Rickett’s would not need assistance from the borough.

The Pottstown Authority wants a review of the water fund budget.  They want costs moved into the general fund.  This will be discussed further at Finance.

Motion to adopt the new rental ordinance passed unanimously.

The low-income riverfront senior housing project passed unanimously.  The Lincoln underwear factory property, where the riverfront low-income senior housing will be built, was appraised at $470,000.  The two lots are 1 ½ acres.  Welcome to Pottsamucil.

The motion to authorize the joint venture between PSD and the borough passed unanimously (22 E. Second St. rehabilitation by PSD students).

The motion to authorize the submission of the Pottstown Skyline Lighting Project to the Montco Community Revitalization Board was approved and the project was made the number 1 priority as part of the vote.  (Think boathouse row downtown).

Motion to approve the submission of an EPA grant for Brownfield cleanup at Bethlehem Steel aka the Pottstown Industrial Complex was approved.

Council labored over the Mrs. Smith’s site again regarding the last mustard colored building (Foil Company) and what to do with it.  The options are: do nothing and keep the $85k, paint and keep $45k or do the mural and keep $45k.  They chose Option 2, paint and keep $45k.  $85k is in escrow from the developer for esthetics regarding this building.  Nobody likes the color much.

The bills were paid and the meeting was adjourned.

Editor’s note: Councilor Kirkland (Ward 7) felt the need to give a diatribe regarding opposition to the low-income riverfront senior housing.  Using a move from Tom Hylton’s playbook, Mr. Kirkland berated those opposed to this project as spreading misinformation and not caring about Pottstown.  Mr. Kirkland, have you been paying attention to people who use this methodology?  They end up like the Shade Tree Commission.  A word to the wise is hopefully sufficient.