Five hundred dollar fines for people who rip official notices off structures in Allentown moved a step closer to becoming a new city law late Thursday afternoon.
City Council's three-member community and economic development committee unanimously recommended the full council adopt the penalty when it meets next Wednesday night.
It would be slapped on anyone responsible "for the unauthorized removal of any official notice or placard placed on a property by an official from the city of Allentown, including but not limited to a notice posting a property as uninhabitable or being an illegal unit."
The amendment to the city's property rehabilitation and maintenance code is proposed by council member Peter Schweyer.
"We have a constant problem with properties that have various degrees of distress and are tagged unfit for a multitude of reasons," said Schweyer. "It could be anything from a utility shutoff to structural problems with the property.
"We tag them because it's a public health and a public safety hazard. If it's a multi-unit rental, for example, residents living in it need to know that what they're living in is not safe for them."
Schweyer said the city knows people are "incentivized" to rip down the notices for a number of reasons. He said less-than-scrupulous landlords do it so they can rent to unsuspecting tenants.
He said the notices also could be removed by someone trying to sell a neighboring property so they won't adversely impact the value of that property.
"We want to try to take away that incentive with a penalty if it's proven they are ripped down," said Schweyer.
He thanked members of the Tenant Association of Allentown for helping initiate the ordinance through conversations with himself and the rest of City Council.
He noted the city's administration also supports the penalty.
"This is another tool in our toolbox for fighting the problems we have with housing," said council member Joe Davis, who chairs the economic development committee.
"It may be difficult at times to enforce it, but it's another tool as you said," agreed David Paulus, the city's building standards & safety director. "I don't see why it can't be used in conjunction with other penalties already in the ordinance."
After the committee meeting, Paulus said the challenge will be that "we have to catch somebody tearing it off."
He said the problem of people removing official notices "doesn't happen a lot, but it happens on occasion."
Paulus said apartment tenants also sometimes remove the placards and notices. "They're still in there and think that if they rip it off, they can stay."
He said if someone did remove official placards posted on a vacant apartment by the city and then rented it, the city already has a $1,000 penalty it could use for such a violation.
Paulus said that penalty could be imposed in addition to or instead of the proposed $500 fine.
In response to a question from Ken Heffentrager of the Tenant Association, Schweyer said someone would be fined $500 every time they remove a notice.