Allentown residents soon may be asked to report any illegal apartments and/or conversions they suspect exist in the city.
A resolution, which encourages residents to report such suspicions to “appropriate city agencies” for investigation, will be considered by City Council Wednesday night.
Council members Peter Schweyer and Julio Guridy, who serve on its community and economic development committee, voted favorably on the resolution at their Monday evening meeting.
The resolution states overcrowding creates public safety and quality of life issues in neighborhoods and warns “it is detrimental to the health and safety of our residents to ignore overcrowding and potential violations of our zoning code.”
David Paulus, the city’s director of building standards, said Allentown has the authority under its rental law to fine people up to $1,000 if they have illegal units. He said those units are found through systematic inspections and “occasionally when people do call in to complain.”
“Most of the units we find are people who had legal apartment units they converted into illegal rooming units by renting out the bedrooms,” said Paulus. “And they’re hard to determine. In today’s economy a lot of families are doubling up because they don’t have the money to pay rent.”
Paulus added sometimes landlords aren’t even aware their tenants have taken it upon themselves to rent out part of their units.
Another part of the problem is out-of-towners who buy homes but rent them to others. Milagros Canales-Ramos, president of the Old Fairgrounds historic district, said her organization greets new homeowners with cupcakes and information about the neighborhood. “Every time we go to the door expecting a homeowner, I’m getting a renter,” she said. “This is affecting our quality of life.”
Resident Dale Fritch, who identified himself as a landlord, said “a place is rented to just four people and all of a sudden you see 12.”
Paulus said enforcement is difficult, because tenants say “it’s my cousin visiting for a couple of weeks.”
“We need the public’s help,” said Schweyer.
Another proposal going to council from Schweyer’s committee will amend the city’s Historic Districts Ordinance.
The change will require anyone wanting to erect, reconstruct, alter, restore, demolish or raze any structures in the city’s historic districts to first consider “Guidelines for Historic Districts,” which was adopted June 25 by the city’s Historical Architectural Review Board.
The 52-page booklet addresses “restoring, maintaining and preserving the Old Allentown, Old Fairgrounds and West Park Historic Districts.” The document is on the city’s web site.