By Richard L. Gaw
In an effort that they say will better protect the rights of those residents who live in rental units in Kennett Township, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors approved and enacted Ordinance No. 217, which will require that all landlords in the township be required to obtain an annual rental license for each property they own, undergo an annual inspection of each unit, and pay an annual fee for a rental license. In addition, the ordinance also requires that landlords provide the township with a list of the names and addresses of all person they are renting to.
The decision to pass the ordinance, known as the Kennett Township Rental License Ordinance, was reached at the board's meeting on May 21.
This ordinance requires that apartment buildings, subsidized housing, duplexes and single-family homes actively renting units be subject to an annual inspection. Nursing homes, bed and breakfasts, continuing care and assisted living facilities, motels and hotels, boarding houses and places where a fee is charged for overnight stays would be excluded from inspection. Any rental unit under the jurisdiction of the Pa. Dept of Agriculture – such as a mushroom workers' unit – is exempt from inspection.
The ordinance also specifies regulations for occupancy, unless it applies to those working in the agricultural business, such as those individuals working in the mushroom industry.
The ordinance gives the township the authority to have its building inspector conduct inspections with the fire inspector, to assure that all safety standards are in keeping with code. The cost of the rental inspection will be $100 per unit, and will be charged to the landlord. The ordinance also allows for renters to come to the township directly to report about a poor living condition, such as a sewage issue.
“We're trying to put into a place a mechanism for being able to go forward and find out information and manage it in a responsible way, so that you don't end up with a house that's burned down to the foundation,” said Board Chairman Scudder Stevens, referring to a home on Creek Road that was burned down last December, which was found to have five families living in it.
“The landlord is involved in this ordinance to obtain the license and pay the fee, and the notify the tenant in the event of inspections,” said township solicitor David Sander. “If someone's violating a township maintenance code, then the owner of the property will get the citation. It's his or her business, and when you run a business, you need to be responsible from what results from that business.”
Sander said that under the ordinance, a tenant can also be cited if he or she did something that was out of the control of the owner, but both of them would probably be cited, and the property maintenance code allows both of them to be cited.
Any landlord who violates any provision of the ordinance will be issued a non-traffic citation, and upon conviction by a court, will be subject to a fine between $300 and $1,000, plus all court costs and attorneys' fees incurred by the township.
Although some may view this ordinance as the township's attempt to thin out its rental population, Stevens strongly refuted the claim, saying that the ordinance opens up a channel for renters to report any problems they may be having within their rental arrangements.
“We're trying to find a more proactive mechanism for dealing with problems that are in our back yards,” he said. “It may be that landlords are concerned that they will have increased responsibilities, and they may pass those increased responsibilities onto their tenants. That's part of what happens. I don't see that this is inappropriate. If it's going to cost more to take care of the property, it's going to better take care of the property.”
In other township news, John Snook of the Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway Commission gave a presentation on the Commission's management plan for the future of the byway corridor, which connects a major portion of Chester and Delaware counties with the Delaware Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway. Snook said that a major part of the plan will be to have the Commission serve as an on-going, supervising arm for all planned projects on the byway.
"This byway is not unnoticed, and we have an incredible richness of history, richness of landscape and richness of conservation activity," Snook said. "We have incredible institutions that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, yet none of the programs have really been coordinated to date, and no one is managing the byway from the standpoint of keeping it for us who live here and enabling it to be used well by the people who come to visit."
Snook said that one of the key components of the plan will be to incorporate seven "stories" of the Brandywine Valley, which include the Battle of the Brandywine; the Underground Railroad; the Brandywine School of Art; the landscape of the region; the settlement and development of the region; the legacy of the County House and Estate (Longwood Gardens); and the conservation legacy of the region.
Township manager Lisa Moore provided an update on the clean-up status of Stephens Garden Creations, located on 257 Kennett Pike, whose store, fish room and office was destroyed in a Nov. 6, 2013 fire and series of explosions. The supervisors authorized Moore and the township's building inspector to enforce the clean-up of the facility. Moore said that the clean-up of the property is about 60 percent complete.
The township is advertising for a full-time zoning officer for the township. Although a salary for the position has not yet been determined, Moore estimated that the officer will receive an annual compensation of $60,000, and will receive full benefits.
Moore said that Ways Lane, a private road in the Kennett Borough, which has become a hazard due to large holes in the road and has prevented mail carriers and emergency services vehicles from accessing it, has received improvements. Moore said that the township's road crew filled the holes with an asphalt mix, making the road passable again. In addition, the township engineer is finishing a study that explores future options for the road, which will be provided to the residents of the road.
The board of supervisors held executive sessions on May 6 and 21, pertaining to the township acquiring real estate. No decision was publicly reached on the future of the Chandler Mill Road Bridge – in which the supervisors decide whether or not it will allow the county to retain ownership of the now-closed bridge in order to reconstruct it as a two-lane, two way bridge, or purchase it for the purpose of renovating it as either a vehicle or passenger structure.
The supervisors reviewed proposed amendments to Ordinance 197, originally adopted in 2011, that allows a retirement community facility to be built in specified areas of the township. Moore said that in February, a developer asked the township to consider making edits to the document draft, which includes that any retirement community development would be managed by an experienced housing provider rather than a non-profit entity; that a commercial district be included in the list of accepted areas for a senior facility to be constructed and operated; and that the minimum number of acres for a facility of this kind be changed from ten acres to five acres. The supervisors asked the township's planning commission to look at the proposed changes, which it is still reviewing.
The supervisors agreed to proceed in authorizing a new draft of ordinance, which will be sent to the Chester County Planning Commission and the township's planning commission for an official ordinance review.