City Council cracks down on nuisance rental houses

A new city law increases penalties for landlords who pack too many students into rental houses in Northwest neighborhoods.

City Council approved creating specific penalties for landlords who repeatedly flout zoning laws in Educational Housing Districts. Those specifically include the fourth and eight councilmanic districts, home to thousands of students at Philadelphia University, St. Joseph’s University and other area schools.

The new law, the result of a bill introduced by Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., uses a three-strikes approach for landlords who violate the ban on more than three unrelated people living together in an educational district. With a third violation, or by failing to pay fines and costs from previous infractions, property owners will lose their rental license for up to three years. 

Neighbors — especially in the residential streets near the Main Street commercial strip in Manayunk and Roxborough — often complain about rowdy, drunk college students on weekends. But other quality-of-life issues come when formerly single-family homes convert to rentals, from parking woes to trash.

Area community groups often urge unhappy neighbors to also report nuisance houses to the Department of Licenses and Inspections, which issues rental licenses. Local civic associations including the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, the Central Roxborough and Ridge Park Civics, and Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association are starting to take a more pointed approach.

MNC president Kevin Smith said the civic groups, along with representatives from L&I, are forming a task force to confront a surge in both the number of rentals and the brazenness of problem tenants in recent years.

Smith said the stronger law could help, but won’t solve the problem until every house is legally rented in the first place.

“The second half of the problem, which the bill can’t address, is the problem of people renting without rental licenses,” he said. “When we get complaints about party houses and other issues related to houses, we are automatically trying to check for rental licenses.”

Officer Charles Kline, the Philadelphia police community relations officer for the Fifth District, said while L&I is ultimately responsible for issuing violations on occupancy limits, police can — and do — share information they observe while on nuisance complaints.

“If the students say, well, five of us live here, I don’t tell the landlord that, but I will go to L&I and tell them that,” he said.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

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