Public hearing draws suggestions for State College rental properties

jvanderk@centredaily.comNovember 4, 2013 

— Borough residents asked Monday for more time to discuss possible changes to nuisance property and property maintenance code laws — and they got it.

The Borough Council voted to place the amendments on the next regular meeting agenda — on Nov. 18 — after a public hearing Monday night. At that time, members can further discuss the issue and vote, or postpone the vote.

The proposed changes include adding a penalty for violations at a property between an issued rental permit suspension notice and effective suspension date, ranging from $500 to $1,000, making the borough responsible for issuing rental housing permits and, most notably, starting a licensing program for student homes, separate from the rental permit process.

Discussion on the changes began more than a year ago and has involved resident roundtable discussions between council members, fraternity and student representatives, real estate agents, landlords and others.

Susan Venegoni said the discussion should head back to those tables. She and others expressed concerns with the student licensing program, an effort to better track homes that have been converted to student rentals.

“I don’t think it’s going to make that big of an impact,” she said. “I can’t see what good licensing will do. It really feels like a witch hunt to me.”

Venegoni and other residents called for fairness in those and other regulations and programs.

Several student leaders asked that fraternities be treated differently from other rentals. When a violation hits a fraternity house, it covers the house as a whole, not just the individuals, as in other apartment complexes.

“Make sure the right people get punished for their actions,” said John Wortman, an off-campus representative for the University Park Undergraduate Association.

Student representative to the council Chase Englund added that fraternities are an “asset” and that, while individuals should be held accountable, the entire organization should not be penalized.

Pat Vernon, a College Township resident who owns rental properties, asked who would face the $500 to $1,000 fines, the tenant or the landlord. Mayor Elizabeth Goreham said the council wouldn’t answer questions during the hearing.

If it goes to the landlord as tenants hold parties every weekend, Vernon said that’s “absurd.”

“The one thing about this entire process is we often end up penalizing the wrong people,” he said. “We’re not teaching the people causing the problem much of a lesson.”

A few council members offered brief comments. President Don Hahn said many issues were raised Monday that warrant more discussion.

Councilman Jim Rosenberger said he won’t vote for the amendments as-is.

“I think licensing, and doing this separate from codes, is not the optimal solution,” he said. “I think we need to have some engagement with the code office to make sure we do the most efficient way of handling the 300 or 400 units.”

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

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