Residents criticize proposed rental housing changes during roundtable talks

Representatives of groups interested in proposed changes to the borough’s rental housing ordinances offered mostly criticisms during a roundtable discussion Thursday afternoon.

The session was the first to bring all those stakeholders together — students, landlords, fraternities, neighborhood associations and others — about 50 people total. Previously, the groups have met separately with borough staff and council members, and the council reviewed the comments from those meetings earlier this month, collecting more feedback at that time that was centered around continuing the dialogue.

Key proposals would change the borough’s nuisance property ordinance, part of the Centre Region Building Safety and Property Maintenance Code. Instead of evicting tenants from a property which receives a suspension of its rental permit at the end of their leases, one change would evict immediately, though Planning Director Carl Hess said “that doesn’t mean we go and lock the doors.”

Instead of a permit suspension being triggered at 10 ordinance violation points, another proposal calls for lowering that to nine. At that same time, a noise violation would increase from two points to three.

Finally, the borough currently acknowledges when a property owner self-reports a problem by not issuing violation points. However, staff proposes only continuing that for serious violations, in which a person’s life could be at risk. Violations like failure to cut grass or pick up trash would no longer be exempt.

The group first discussed community goals and how the ordinance changes could help meet them. Many agreed that fraternities should be treated differently than other rental properties, because they have national organization scrutiny and hold one rental permit for an entire house instead of one per unit, as in other complexes.

“Fraternities really are a different issue and need to be treated differently,” College Heights Association President Donna Queeney reported for one group.

Others discussed maintaining the quality of life in the borough, and fostering better communication between all parties.

The goal of the second discussion was to collect positive and negative aspects of the proposals, but participants offered mostly criticisms.

“I wasn’t given anything positive to write down,” reported Josh Wimble, a student with Penn State’s University Park Undergraduate Association. “There’s no course of action for improved communication and also no positive reinforcement.”

He and others suggested a community service program so rental tenants could work down violation points.

Many also opposed the idea of immediate eviction once the suspension level is reached and encouraged prevention and education.