City Council Approves Rental Registry, Housing Discrimination Bills

Dec 10, 2015

Council approved a rental registry and housing discrimination bill in a preliminary vote Wednesday.
Credit Mark Moz / Flickr

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to the rental property registration program, which was first introduced more than a year ago.

It will require landlords to register with the city, pay an annual fee and get regular inspections.

Some members of Council had worried it would place too much of a burden on responsible landlords, and wanted to see more incentives and fewer punitive measures.

Kevin Acklin, chief of staff and chief development officer for Mayor Bill Peduto, said all landlords will be required to pay the full $45 to $65 fee initially and will have their properties inspected over the next three years. Landlords who pass the initial inspection will only have to pay half the fee to have their licenses renewed, and can wait five years for re-inspection instead of three.

The version approved Wednesday also includes a graduated fee scale, so that landlords who own large apartment buildings pay less per unit. Acklin said that ensures that the city isn’t making money off the fee, but rather is only covering its costs. If it’s not revenue neutral it would amount to a tax, which could open up the city to a legal challenge.

He said every other business in the city is required to have a license and that landlords shouldn’t be any different.

“These are small businesses and we want to encourage them, but right now it’s a little bit like the Wild West,” he said. “What (this bill) does is gives us accountability. If you’re not operating according to the standards of code or if you’re contributing to the problem of blight in our neighborhoods, then we can take that license away from you.”

The bill also includes language that requires the Department of Permits, License and Inspections (PLI) to come up with ways to help landlords comply, including a manual of good landlord practices, a “landlord academy” and incentives to encourage “good landlords.”

Councilwoman Deb Gross said a year ago she was not in favor of the proposal, calling it a “blunt tool.” But now, she said she’s supportive, and pleaded with Pittsburgh’s responsible landlords to be patient while more details are being worked out.

“Please don’t sell your property to a speculative investor or absentee landlord out of state,” she said. “Bear with us; we are crafting rewards and incentives to make this more workable for you and your neighbors and your tenants.”

The rental registry will go into effect six months after PLI publicly posts the requirements for registration and inspection.

Council also gave preliminary approval to a bill that outlaws housing discrimination based on source of income.

Councilman Ricky Burgess sponsored the measure, which was one of the recommendations of the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force and is part of his City for All agenda, calling it “symbolic” and a “statement against discrimination.”

He said many of the low-income people who take advantage of housing assistance are single mothers, veterans, have disabilities and are people of color.

Burgess became frustrated when some Council members said they had concerns about the bill potentially putting additional burdens on landlords, who would have to apply to accept federal housing vouchers and comply with additional inspections.

“We just passed a rental registry forcing these landlords, saying they have to do these things,” he said. “Simply putting into the code that they can’t discriminate because of people’s income is righteous and just and appropriate.”

Burgess clarified that it would not require landlords to accept Section 8 housing vouchers, but they would not be able to deny someone a rental unit simply because that person uses housing vouchers.

If someone felt they were denied an apartment because they receive government assistance, they can file a case with the Commission on Human Relations.

Council will take final votes on both bills next week.