To the editor:
The Mifflin Borough Rental Properties Maintenance and Housing Occupancy Ordinance:
It was reported in the Aug. 14 edition of the Juniata Sentinel that Mifflin Borough is considering a new ordinance commonly referred to as: "The Mifflin Borough Rental Properties Maintenance and Housing Occupancy Ordinance." This ordinance is targeting landlords under the guise that it is for the safety and identification of the tenants. For providing this valued service, Mifflin Borough wishes to charge the landlord a fee for the inspection/registration process. Mifflin Borough realizes there will be resistance so they are considering lowering the fees for the initial inspection in order to gain compliance. How grateful the landlords should be. I personally think this is why laws are better than ordinances; with a law you don't pay a fine until you violate the law and are proven guilty. With this kind of an ordinance you pay a fee whether you are in compliance or not. Of course this fee will benefit Mifflin Borough and the paid code officer who performs the inspection. At what point are miscellaneous fees and government intrusion into our lives enough?
I question what the real need for this service is and what statistics are available for imposing such an ordinance. Have there been a number of tenants harmed in the borough due to landlord neglect? It seems there must have been in order to enact an ordinance to protect tenants. If the borough is truly concerned about resident safety and quality of life, than why doesn't the borough inspect all residences and businesses? Is a rental property more likely to harm someone than a personally owned residence or does this create an invasion of privacy issue? Why do landlords and tenants give up their right of invasion into their property/residence just because it is rental property? These homes are not open to the public as a matter of right or custom such as Agway, the post office or the bars. Law enforcement can't enter a rental property without consent or a search warrant but the code officer will have authority to enter upon demand. Is council willing to open their own home to the code officer so their safety and quality of life can be assured? I would expect those council members, who decide to pass this ordinance, to be first in line.
Possibly, it is the need to identify the tenants so they can be placed on the borough's tax rolls, since the new bridge forced several businesses and residences from the tax base. If that is the case, would it not be less burdensome to send a letter to all landlords with a post card to complete and return reporting the identification of all tenants. Has there been any effort on behalf of any borough official to collect this information prior to going to this extreme. I was asked by a borough official, while out in public months ago, who was living in my rental house. I provided the borough official my telephone number and said "call me at home later and I'll provide the information to you." I'm still waiting for that phone call.
Being a landlord is no easy task and keeping the cost down for the tenants is challenging with increased property taxes, water, sewage, and garbage rates. If this ordinance is adopted, the inspection fee will be passed onto the tenant along with the costs of whatever the code officer decides is faulty and by whomever's standards? After the property is inspected and passed by the borough, what liability does the borough assume if a tenant is harmed on that approved property?
If the borough could pass an ordinance to assist landlords in collecting unpaid rent, now there is a dictate I could endorse.
This same ordinance was brought up for passage in Port Royal Borough recently and the landlords and tenants spoke up against it and it failed to pass. The next borough meeting is 7 p.m. Sept. 3. Come and let your voices be heard.