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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Vacation rental regs get public review

  • PALMYRA TWP. (Pike) - A vacation rental ordinance has been developed for Palmyra Township (Pike), affecting the many short term rental houses found in private communities along Lake Wallenpaupack and elsewhere. Working on it for at least a year and a half, the Supervisors opened the floor August 5th to a packed house to comment on the latest version.
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  • PALMYRA TWP. (Pike) - A vacation rental ordinance has been developed for Palmyra Township (Pike), affecting the many short term rental houses found in private communities along Lake Wallenpaupack and elsewhere. Working on it for at least a year and a half, the Supervisors opened the floor August 5th to a packed house to comment on the latest version.
       Not meant to stop legitimate rental of private properties, the ordinance seeks to hold landlords accountable for their tenants and protect health, safety and welfare of the communities where they are found. Numerous complaints have been heard at Township meetings over the last couple years about problem rentals, where sometimes large gatherings crowd roads with cars, and tax both the septic system and neighbors' peace of mind subjected to noisy parties and occasional misbehavior.
       As proposed, the ordinance calls for a Township permit to rent the premises, contact numbers, enforcement and penalties for violators.
       Township Solicitor Anthony Waldron said that the hope is to adopt the ordinance this year but not let it become effective until January 1, 2015. That would allow property owners lead time to make any necessary corrections ahead of the ordinance.
       Carson Helfrich, Planning Consultant, explained the highlights of the ordinance.
    ••• Limit on number of people
        The permit will require listing of the number of bedrooms in the house. This figure helps determine the safe number of occupants to avoid overloading the septic system. Two persons per bedroom plus an addition four persons will be allowed to lodge in a rental unit.
       "We don't want a three bedroom house and 25 renters," Waldron said. "It causes a sewer overload."
        The number of guests that will be allowed amounts to 75 percent of the number of tenants. Twelve tenants, for example, can entertain nine guests.
       Waldron added that the Township won't be going around "counting heads" but the provision exists in case a problem arises and a regulation needs to be enforced.
        The permit will have to be posted on the exterior of the house. The cost of the permit fee has not been determined.
       The Township can appoint an enforcement officer. If it becomes necessary the Township could consider contracting a police department in the future.
         Because it is hard to hold transient visitors accountable, the Township will hold the property owner responsible if any violation is found. If an actual crime was committed, the State Police would be contacted.
       Landlords will have to show that they have a licenses requiring payment of the Pike County Hotel Tax and the Pennsylvania Sales Tax.
    Page 2 of 3 -    Copies of advertisements to rent the home will have to be supplied to the Township.
       A permit can be revoked after repeating the same violation within six months. Supervisor Eric Ehrhardt remarked that the possibility of losing a rental permit would mean a great loss of rental income and should be a good incentive for a property owner to follow the rules.
       The Vacation Rental Ordinance will apply only to short-term rentals, defined as one to 30 days.
    ••• Public reaction
       Approximately 11 people in the crowded meeting room raised questions or made comments. Most of those speaking were from the 900-acre Tanglwood Lakes Community Association.
       Tom Ryan of Tanglwood was glad that whoever does the enforcement will be available weekends. He said a couple weekends ago they had 15 cars parked at a "frat party" which became "noisy and disturbing."
       Although Tanglwood does not allow exterior signs, Waldron said that the rental permit sign s relatively small. He said that the Township can impose requirements in a private community, much the same as requiring a 9-1-1 address sign.
        A performance bond would not likely be permissible by the courts to be placed on a landlord, Waldron said, replying to another query.
       Edward Potter, a director at Tanglwood, said that most of their homes are three bedroom, designated as one family units. A person wanting to rent it out might make extra bedrooms downstairs and overwhelm the septic system. Although this concern is covered by the Sewage Facilities Act enforceable by the Township, Potter asked that the rental ordinance cover it as well.
      Tom Egan of Tanglwood noted that many complaints arise from a neighbor verses another neighbor. The problem could mount if the complaining party wasn't anonymous. Waldron replied that a complainant would need to be identified as a witness if a matter went to court. Some complaints, such as the number of bedrooms, however, would not require a witness (other than the building inspector).
        Another resident thought it was great that no fireworks will be allowed at a rental unit and wished there could also be a prohibition on b-b guns and firearms. Supervisor Ken Coutts said that use of guns would become a State Police issue.
       Lynn Biondo, Hemlock Grove, asked what if an owner lets a house be occupied by family or friends who don't pay rent. Waldron said that if they weren't be charged rent, the Township may not be able to regulate it. If there was an ongoing issue the Township may have to say something. If it was a "few times a year," the Township wouldn't intervene.
    Page 3 of 3 -    "We don't have the staff or interest to go door to door," Waldron said. The Township will monitor the Internet for house rental advertisements, watch for posters and act on complaints.
        Ehrhardt said that this ordinance is a "first time best effort" and could be revisited in the future.
       Tom Oakley, Chairman of the Paupack Township Board of Supervisors, complimented Palmyra Township on the good work done, a sentiment echoed by others in the room.
    ••• Landlord speaks
      Tom Wagner, who owns a rental property at Lake Crest, asked if the Township has a way to check their rental contracts.
       Solicitor Waldron replied that the Township is not in a position to tell a landlord what to charge a tenant or how to make them comply.
       Board Chairman Tom Simons commended Wagner and Lake Crest for having rental contracts. He said he hopes their ordinance will give landlords some ideas on writing a contract.
       Wagner explained that each renter gets a copy of the contract and it is posted on the refrigerator. He suggested that there should be a minimal standard around the lake. "Some renters you may not see for 10 years- a slum lord," Wagner said.
        "A lot of places don't have lists of regulations," Simons said. "They just want to collect the money."
    •••   
        The Palmyra Township (Pike) Supervisors meet on the first and third Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. off Gumbletown Road. The office may be reached at 570-226-2230.

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