Judge Strikes Down Ban On Renting To Felons

Jun 21, 2016

 

Darcy Smith outside her home in Gallitzin, Pa. She moved here from another apartment in the borough with her three children just after the local government enacted a ban on renting to people with felony drug convictions within the past seven years. A judge has since overturned that ordinance.
Credit Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A Cambria County judge has overturned a borough's prohibition against renting to drug felons.

Judge Tamara Bernstein issued the ruling Thursday, more than four months after Darcy Smith sued the borough of Gallitzin.

Smith, 38, filed her lawsuit after getting an eviction notice upon moving into a new home with her three children. She'd been living elsewhere in the Gallitzin since her release from prison over a year prior.

Gallitzin is one of at least three communities in Pennsylvania where landlords cannot lease to people convicted of a drug felony within the past seven years . The other two are Sunbury, in Northumberland County, and Mifflinburg, in Union County.

Ruling details

Bernstein ruled the state's Sentencing and Parole Codes and Landlord-Tenant Act both supersede Gallitzin's ordinance.

She wrote that landlords can't evict tenants simply to comply with the borough's rules because a criminal record isn't one of three justifiable reasons laid out in the Landlord-Tenant Act: the lease expiring, tenant violation of its terms or nonpayment by the tenant.

Aside from that, Bernstein sided with the defense's contention that landlords who attempt to follow state law and Gallitzin's ordinance would face an undue financial burden. State law gives tenants the right to a hearing (absent in the Gallitzin ordinance) and requires at least two weeks' notice for evictions — during which time, the borough could fine $1,000 per day. 

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