The beginning of the end of One Strike?
I heard a rumor this week that Wilkes-Barre might not be enforcing One Strike anymore, because it’s unconstitutional. A glimmer of hope quickly smudged away by my inborn cynicism. So I had my husband, who has a somewhat decent relationship with some of the Code Enforcement employees, check it out. They transferred him upstairs to the boss, Michael Simonson. No, it’s still in force, city council just changed some sections of the code. And no he doesn’t have that information yet so he can’t tell us what was changed.
So I went onto the City Council website and downloaded the minutes from the last work session. It appears they changed part of section 7 of article 7 of chapter 7 of the city code of ordinances, which is where One Strike is written, but it seems more like a disclaimer than a change in the law. First they deleted the definitions of a regular rental unit. Then they added two sections: “Severability” and “Repealer”:
“Severability: The provisions of this ordinance are severable. If any part of this ordinance is declared to be unconstitutional, illegal, or invalid, the validity of the remaining provisions should be unaffected thereby. It is the intention of the Council of the City of Wilkes-Barre that this ordinance would have been adopted had such unconstitutional, illegal, or invalid part not been included.”
Sound like the legal language of Cover Your Ass to me, folks.
And – “Repealer: all ordinances or parts of ordinances inconsistent herewith be and the same are hearby repealed. All ordinances not specifically amended hereby remain in full force and effect.”
Part of me wants to pay a lawyer to decipher that last one. Does this mean they have quietly repealed One Strike? I doubt it – but it looks to my untrained eye that if it is found unconstitutional by, say, the giant ACLU lawsuit brought by the first landlord they shut down, that they think they can simply repeal it without consequence. Oops. Sorry, didn’t know it was unconstitutional. If that’s the case I’m prepared to call Bullshit. There are going to be monetary damages sought.
What I want to know is, can my friend reopen his unit on Madison St? He’s waiting for the ACLU. Probably a smart decision. He’d probably have to pay a lawyer to open the unit now and he may not be successful. And then he’d have to rent it out and deal with a tenant for better or for worse. If he waits for the ACLU to win, then he can hire a lawyer and go after all his lost rent and other damages.
A glimmer of hope of the state level. There was an event in Harrisburg this week for a project called “Fix Forfeiture” which is uniting strange bedfellows on both the left and right of the political spectrum. They are focusing on the messed up civil forfeiture laws in Pennsylvania, as well as Ohio and Michigan. From watchdog.org: “In Pennsylvania, Republican state Senator Mike Folmer introduced a similar bill that would allow law enforcement to seize only “assets used to implement or facilitate commission of the crime or crimes of which the person has been convicted.”
Folmer’s bill has seven other co-sponsors, three Republicans and four Democrats. A House companion bill has gathered 22 co-sponsors.” Read the whole article here: http://watchdog.org/225819/left-and-right-unite-civil-asset-forfeiture/
Live free or die. OK – WHY do I live in a state where they think it’s perfectly fine to confiscate your private property when you haven’t even been convicted of a crime???!!! And how has this been allowed to go on so long in the United States of America?
I guess I’m just blown away by the fact that there are places in this great nation of ours that do not revere Liberty the same way we do in my native New England. I was born in the state that still talks about the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere as if it happened last week. Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden Pond” was in my metro area. Surrounding states have slogans such as, “The Constitution State” (CT) and “Live Free or Die” (NH)
“So why don’t you go back there, then?” Thinking about it!
But there is hope for Benjamin Franklin’s Commonwealth, home of the Liberty Bell and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And it’s a long time coming. Once Folmer’s bill is signed into law Ben can stop spinning in the grave.
Another glimmer of hope for investors. More property management companies are popping up in the Wilkes-Barre area, and this is a good thing for investors.
My husband and I do not run a professional management company. We are do-it-yourself investors. Our company brand is Good People Good Homes and that was the name of our first LLC when we had just a few properties. Then we acquired more and formed different LLCs to hold them for liability reasons. When our rental property ownership climbed into the double-digits, I thought it would be a good idea to form a “management company” so the all the tenants would write the rent check to the same place, GPGH Management. We got an office phone number instead of using our cell phones. All the bills come out of the GPGH Management operating account. The leases for all the properties are under GPGH Management.
But a professional, legal management company in the state of Pennsylvania must be run by a licensed real estate broker. And there aren’t very many of those in the Wilkes-Barre area. More are popping up, though.
Picking the right property management company. If you are an out-of-state investor, or even a far-enough-out-of-town investor, you should absolutely have a professional property manager. Wilkes-Barre requires it if you live more than 20 miles away and many other towns have similar ordinances. The best way to find these companies, since more are popping up every week, is to call local real estate offices and ask if they manage rental properties. I have been doing some research on this for my out-of-town investor friends, and in my personal/quasi-professional opinion I have found only two I would recommend as of the date of this blog:
#1 – Signature Property Management Services - Century 21 Signature Properties, Shavertown, PA. http://www.c21signature.com/content/property-management-services-wilkes-barre-pa
The property management business for this brokerage is run by Florence Konopke, who managed high rise apartments for the elderly for 27 years. For the past two years, she’s been managing rental properties for investors in the Wilkes-Barre area. She’s very professional, her clients love her and she has a good track record of keeping rentals filled with quality tenants. And most importantly to us – she has a great reputation with the city of Wilkes-Barre rental inspectors.
#2- RNR Property Management – Realty World (Dave Rubbico) Plains, PA. https://rnrpropertymgt.managebuilding.com/Resident/PublicPages/ContactUs.aspx
They’re the largest property management company in the area, with a full staff handling around 200 units. The property management business has been around for 8 years and they’ve grown nicely into the role. They have built systems to efficiently manage that volume of properties.
Like I said, it seems that more real estate brokers are adding property management to their list of services every week, so you may have more than just these two to check out. Here are some questions you should ask:
How much experience have you had dealing with tenants?
How about dealing with the City of Wilkes-Barre? Ever come up against Code Enforcement? One Strike?
Would you allow us to keep our own maintenance contract?
Would you allow us to sign onto your maintenance after the fact if we ended our maintenance contract a few months down the road?
What systems do you have in place for handling tenant maintenance calls?
What about larger maintenance items?
When our eyes are no longer on our buildings every day, we’ll be depending on your eyes to be – How do you intend to keep your eyes on our buildings?
Do you handle lawn care/grass cutting & landscaping? How often?
Dog poop issues?
How do you handle squabbling tenants?
Does your company pay our utility bills or do we?
How about sewer, taxes, insurance?
How do you collect rents - by mail? Pick ups? Direct deposit/ACH? Drop offs?
Your fees: % of rents (the standard in NEPA is 10% of collected rents)
Leasing (the standard in NEPA is they take the first month’s rent for leasing an empty unit)
Maintenance (this is waived if we use our own, correct?)
Other fees (eviction, etc)
Who handles accounting?
What software do you use?
Monthly statements and checks are mailed out when?
We have __ units that need management. Is your company capable of absorbing all of them? (important question to ask if you are handing over a bunch of properties!)
Tell me about your support staff (this is important – if it’s a one-man show you need to know who steps in if the flu strikes!)
Finally – get references. And a COMPLETE list of properties that company manages. They’re only going to give you the phone numbers of their favorite clients, so you’ll want to drive by a few of the other properties and ask yourself if you like what you see.
I still believe it is possible to be a successful real estate investor in Northeast PA. Some of the laws here are messed up and that is why I am now an activist as well as an investor. I believe the best tactic for changing laws in favor of our business is to make sure our business is infallible. Tighten up that ship! Finding a good property manager - or making sure you are a good property manager yourself – is job number one.