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Fire prompts Lansford look at rental homes

The Borough of Lansford could help prevent a repeat of the tragic March 15 fire by making sure landlords follow its rental inspection ordinance, according to the town’s fire chief.

The borough has an ordinance requiring regular inspections of rental properties. Council members said during a meeting on Wednesday that the town has a limited budget for enforcement, and 647 rental properties.

“We’re a town looking for a disaster. We have to do something about it, whether we can afford it or not,” said council member John Turcmanovich.

Joseph Greco, chief of American Fire Co. No. 1, recently wrote a letter to council expressing concern about the lack of regular rental inspections.

The fatal March 15 fire on West Bertsch Street started in a home with no working smoke detectors.

“The lack of smoke detectors in the double block home was a recipe for disaster, not only for the renters but for the attached neighbors,” Greco wrote.

Jonathan Honey Sr., 30, died in the fire. Four other people were injured, and two homes were destroyed in a fire which ultimately displaced four families.

Greco said that the smoke detectors might have been corrected if the house had been inspected recently. But the most recent property inspection reportedly took place a decade ago.

Greco said that it isn’t uncommon for the fire department to be called to rental properties with illegal fire hazards, such as blocked chimneys.

“The borough needs to hold these landlords accountable, including annual inspections,” Greco wrote.

Lansford has an ordinance which requires landlords to get their properties inspected every two years, or when a tenant moves out.

The ordinance is enforced by the borough’s zoning and code department, which has one part-time employee. That employee also handles zoning and code enforcement, and recently became responsible for inspecting Section 8 properties for the federal government, according to Turcmanovich.

“How in the heck is one code enforcement officer supposed to do code enforcement, zoning, and get out and inspect 647 properties?” Turcmanovich said.

The borough uses its own in-house employee instead of outside agencies because of cost. In the past, the borough lost money paying agencies fees to conduct inspections which had a cost that was higher than the fees that the borough received from the property owner.

Councilman Bob Silver said council should look into whether it could save money sharing code enforcement services with neighboring boroughs.

Meanwhile, others said the issues with rental inspections go beyond just fire prevention. William Chuma said there are rental houses which have plastic tarps covering leaky roofs.

“‘It’s called a Lansford roof, everybody calls it a Lansford roof,” Chuma said.