Lehigh Valley

Schnecksville fire prompts rental inspection proposal

NORTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - The Schnecksville fire that killed 63 pets on July 15 is leading North Whitehall officials to consider mandatory inspections for all rental properties.

At Monday's Board of Supervisors' meeting, North Whitehall Manager Jeff Bartlett urged officials to consider implementing safety inspections for all rental properties in the township annually as well as when a short-term renter moves out within six months' time.

Bartlett said that part of the reason fires such as the one in Schnecksville take place is because the township cannot adequately monitor and enforce regulations.

According to him, the 63 pets that perished at the North Whitehall property far exceeded the six-pet maximum occupancy for a parcel that size, but the township would've been unable to intervene regardless. 

"Even though we have it in an ordinance…we don't have the authority to go into someone's home and investigate someone's property [for violations]," said Bartlett. "We don't have that ability and most of the time that we have these problems, a lot of these properties are [rentals]."

Officials say the proposed annual inspections would allow the township to check for basic safety features in the properties such as functioning smoke detectors and hot water, screens on windows, hand rails on staircases and blocked stairwells among others.

"We are not talking about anything more than a health and safety inspection of the property," said Bartlett. "I really don't want to be viewed that we're being ‘big brother…we do [though] want to know that [that residents] have hot water and their furnace is working." 

The township manager also added that additional inspections could potentially lower insurance premiums, as companies are likely to respond favorably to further assurance of safety.

Without a formal proposal in place though, the supervisors requested that manager Bartlett gather more information on the potential impact of this plan.

Chairman Ronald Heintzelman, who revealed his son was among the first emergency responders on the scene at the Schnecksville fire, voiced his support for the move.

"I think we need it," he said.

Supervisor Richard Selmer meanwhile speculated that the initiative could help remedy potential issues caused by an evolving housing stock.

"In many cases you have people coming into the township that have lived in other areas," he said. "If they're not taking care of [their property] they're going to have problems with it and it's going to fall on the shoulders of the owners."

Bartlett said if approved the rental inspection process would likely take two years to be fully operational.

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