State College Borough Council sets public hearing on rental housing rule changes

jvanderk@centredaily.comOctober 9, 2013 

— Borough Council members and residents still have concerns about proposed changes to rental property regulations, and all will have the chance to comment further at an upcoming public hearing.

The council this week set a tentative public hearing for its Nov. 4 meeting.

The council, neighborhood representatives and others have discussed since late last year potential changes to the region’s Property Maintenance Code and the borough’s nuisance property regulations, as well as a proposal to start a license program for student homes.

The changes are in part a response to concerns of borough neighborhood associations related to the regulation of single-family homes that have been converted to rental homes, often occupied by students.

Roundtable discussions were held in the spring among students, landlords, the neighborhood associations and others, resulting in a lengthy list of issues, including borough quality of life, how to treat fraternities compared to other rental properties and better communication between parties.

In an amendment prepared for the council on Monday night, borough staff narrowed previous discussions to several recommendations, including:

•  Maintaining noise ordinance violations at two ordinance points (raising it to three points was considered).

•  Maintaining a 10-point rental permit suspension process trigger (reducing it to nine points was considered).

• Adding a furnishing alcohol to minors violation that would earn two nuisance points.

•  Adding an annual license requirement for student homes, in addition to the rental permits.

•  Maintaining that a rental permit suspension takes effect at the end of the current leases or one year from the date of the suspension notice, whichever comes first (making the suspension effective immediately was considered).

Councilman Tom Daubert said that the draft amendment is a “better start” than the borough has had to make such changes.

He also suggested that if the same properties continue to tally up violations, they should receive a greater number of points than a property on its first violation, and said circumstances should be considered related to noise violations.

“A simple noise violation on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. should not have the same points as a noise violation Sunday morning at 2 a.m.,” he said.

Daubert is the longtime faculty and alumni adviser for Delta Sigma Phi and noted Monday that fraternity houses should receive special consideration. Intermittent rentals, those that are rented for short periods, like football weekends, are set to be considered separately by the Planning Commission.

Daubert asked why the borough isn’t also studying the fraternity issue, and Manager Tom Fountaine said the council has indicated that it didn’t want to pursue that.

“Fraternity buildings have come up virtually every time this code has been reviewed,” Fountaine said. “The issue of how fraternities are treated is a challenge.”

Challenges include the fact that a violation affects the entire house and its 30 to 60 residents while in some apartment buildings, each unit receives a rental permit and nuisance points only affect the residents in the unit in question.

Several residents who have followed along with the borough’s process thus far mentioned other concerns.

Some were related to the student home licensing program. The borough cannot reliably track student homes in the neighborhoods because a “student home” is a land use that, once established, doesn’t require updating unless that use changes.

A license program ideally would help the borough track those properties.

Susan Venegoni brought up the council’s discussion on whether and how to withdraw from the Centre Region Code Agency, and that new license regulations should be part of that.

“I would hope that the borough would work on the bigger picture of working on a comprehensive permitting process, instead of working on it piecemeal,” she said.

Staff is now recommending incorporating student home licensing into the rental housing permit process, perhaps with a check box, so that everything is included in one document.

Fountaine said that could happen whether a permit is administered by the borough or the Centre Region.

It is anticipated that the council will vote on the code withdrawal issue later this month.

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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