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Lansdale Nuisance Ordinance Would Hold Landlords Responsible for Bad Tenants

Lansdale Police, Lansdale Department of Codes and borough administration are looking into a nuisance abatement ordinance that would help landlords say bye-bye to bad renters.

Main Street in downtown Lansdale. Credit: Flickr.com/Montgomery County Planning Commission.
Main Street in downtown Lansdale. Credit: Flickr.com/Montgomery County Planning Commission.
Lansdale neighbors fed up with that nuisance of a badly-behaving renter may soon have a solution in a nuisance ordinance that will hold landlords responsible to evict problem tenants from the neighborhood. 
Lansdale Police, borough administration and the Department of Code Enforcement are in the very early stages of looking into the creation of Lansdale's first nuisance abatement ordinance to deal with disorderly and nuisance households.
"Many residents and many landlords feel that when they receive complaints about their tenants they have no recourse on how to resolve the problem, because they are involved in a lease with that tenant," said Lansdale Director of Community Development John Ernst. "Residents feel they have no ability to alleviate the situation, because the landlord has no recourse to deal with the nuisance tenant." 
Ernst said, simply, there is nothing on the Lansdale code books that gives the borough the right to hold a landlord responsible.
"It's something we've talked about for years," said Lansdale Police Chief Robert McDyre at this month's public safety committee meeting. "(Councilman) Mike Sobel brought it forward and his constituents brought it forth to him."
Sobel said he has received complaints from constituents in Ward Two of constant police calls for specific properties.
"There are constant code issues at a place, they deal with it, and then two months later, it's the same thing," Sobel said. "This would be a way to try and enforce that."
"We're saying 'OK, three strikes and you're out,'" Sobel said. "Then we take drastic measures to make people clean it up, evict problem people, or do whatever we have to."
Sobel said while private citizens cannot be evicted, they can be fined heavily, which hopefully eliminates the behavior.
McDyre said the ordinance would improve the quality of life in many areas where people complain about poorly-managed rental properties.
"There's two different directions: it can be strictly enforced by police with fines or enforced through the codes department," McDyre said. "We could even do a hybrid. But this is still in its infancy." 
Sobel said the nuisance ordinance was inspired by a trip a couple years back to Lancaster with fellow councilmembers, Ernst and manager Timi Kirchner.
"We met with our counterparts and division heads in Lancaster City. They had an ordinance and sent us a copy," Sobel said, adding Pittsburgh and Allentown have similar ordinances.  "We have to look at their parameters and see what fits Lansdale. We want to take bits and pieces of all of them."
Ernst said Lansdale could have a modification of the Lancaster ordinance.
"The one from Lancaster has a provision in that, if a particular tenant were to receive three or more police reports lodged against him or her, then the landlord is obligated to begin and start the eviction process of getting rid of that tenant," Ernst said. 
He emphasized they must be legit, bona fide police reports compiled on an annual basis.
"The police have to decide if it's a legit complaint or not," Ernst said. "And we cannot get involved with domestic disputes."
Ernst said in situations where a tenant is belligerent to Lansdale Borough because it addresses a rubbish complaint, Lansdale can use the nuisance report as a vehicle to lodge a complaint against the tenant. 
"We are using the police report as the tool that becomes the method to evict the tenant," Ernst said. "The ordinance trumps the lease. Since there is no ordinance, we are at the mercy of the lease and it's up to the landlord to decide to respond to complaints."
McDyre said public safety will meet with neighbors and undergo mediation on the ordinance. 
"People tell us there is a chronic problem with bad tenant after bad tenant, and the landlord doesn't seem to care," McDyre said. "This is a way to keep them honest, keep them licensed, keep them professional." 
Ernst said while discussions have started, it has already fielded calls from landlords who speak positive of such an ordinance and support the effort.
"Eviction is a major legal process, especially if it's the middle of the lease," Ernst said. "This ordinance from the borough compels the landlord to evict, or they will be in violation of the ordinance."
Ernst said Lansdale has its share of absentee landlords.
"They don't know there are reports against some tenants or that there are problems," he said. "Now, we can have a situation where every time there is a police report against a tenant, the landlord is notified of it." 
All in all, the ordinance would give a method for landlords to deal with undesirable tenants and solve problems.
"It also gives surrounding neighbors assurance they do not have to deal with nuisance neighbors for extended periods of time, if the situation continues," Ernst said.

Robert Focht August 21, 2013 at 05:01 PM
I fail to see how an ordinance can override an existing lease.
p bresn August 21, 2013 at 05:09 PM
finally!!!!!!!!!! praise the lord...its about time these landlords are held responsible for their loser tenants...perhaps collegeville boro will follow suit which should have been done a long time ago....why should longtime residents have to put up with loser renters????
Judy Smith August 22, 2013 at 03:15 PM
"Lodge a police report against"? Validity to be determined by the police? Don't doubt there is a problem, but don't we still have courts to make such determinations?
Stephen White August 22, 2013 at 08:16 PM
I have a unique perspective on this topic considering my tenant screening/background check company (RentPrep) works with several municipalities to help design and enforce nuisance abatement ordinances. The most successful are those that require a screening process and communicate with the landlords to notify them of nuisance calls. This way everyone is on the same page and working together proactively. I've worked closely with several Police Departments that even negotiate pricing or help with the background check process to get the landlords better deals on the information that will potentially save everyone time and money.

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