An article appeared in the Philadelphia inquirer recently about their persistent landlord problem. Similar to Philadelphia, Norristown has issues with rental properties that are fairly long standing. Like Philadelphia, the administration has been lax in doing enough about enforcement of property management codes either because of money, manpower, or political will.
The whole property management issue is a slippery slope. When I was a council person, one particular constituent was a landlord with a few properties. He often questioned me as to why homeowners didn’t fall under the same regulations as landlords. He was specifically referring to the heater inspection process, but in general he felt the process should be the same for homeowners as it is for landlords. My response to him over and over was that landlords are operating a business and the municipality is giving them a license to do that business. Ultimately the municipality is liable if anything should happen to the people in that property. It’s a simple concept really. Yes, insurance will cover part of it, but operating a business means that you have a whole other set of responsibilities.
Broken down properties with falling shutters, trash strewn front lawns, and peeling paint are not the renter’s responsibility. They are the landlord's and the landlord should be made accountable for them. If there are a majority of properties in a block that look unkempt, the block will be easy pickings for criminal activity because the criminals know that will be looking for them. That reason alone should be rationale enough why something must be done about those kinds of properties. Block upon block of these types of properties creates a cancer of sorts for the town and it should be dealt with soon before it spreads. A law such as what Philadelphia is trying to accomplish should be implemented in any town that has a predisposition to property owners who don’t care. Those owners should be made accountable and held responsible to making the changes needed. Without such attention before you know it the town is degraded, undervalued, and a place where no one wants to live.