By a vote of 4 to 1, West Donegal Township supervisors voted to advertise a proposed ordinance to establish a property maintenance code.
Currently, the township has no authority to deal with structurally unsafe buildings or homes with problems such as vermin or animal hoarding. The township can take people to court over issues such as failing to mow lawns, but the current process is cumbersome and leads to thousands of dollars in court costs by the time it gets to a magisterial district judge. Under the proposed ordinance, when the township has a reasonable cause to believe there is a problem at a home, a township official may knock on the door and seek permission from the resident to look inside. The township would be able to take action if any violations of the International Property Maintenance Code are found.
Supervisor Douglas Hottenstein voted against advertising the proposed ordinance. He questioned why it is the township’s responsibility to regulate the inside of someone’s home. He said the outside of a home affects neighbors, but the inside only affects those living in the home.
“Somebody wants to live in squalor, it doesn’t necessarily affect their neighbors,” Hottenstein said.
Supervisor John E. Martin II said squalid living conditions are a fire hazard.
“So is a house without any fire extinguishers,” Hottenstein said. “But are we going to go in and check them all?”
“We should,” Martin replied.
Hottenstein also said he was concerned that an ordinance allowing a township official to knock on the door and ask to look inside would lead to township officials later getting the authority to enter homes without permission.
Supervisor Philip Dunn said although he liked a lot of what was proposed in the ordinance, he had concerns about the “reasonable cause” that would allow the township to go to a home and ask to see inside. Despite this, he joined all supervisors except Hottenstein in voting to advertise the proposed ordinance.
Unlike neighboring Elizabethtown Borough and Mount Joy Township, West Donegal’s proposed ordinance would not impose special regulations on residential rental properties. Elizabethtown Borough and Mount Joy Township both require landlords to get licenses for residential rentals and to allow the municipalities to inspect the rental units.
Township Manager John Yoder said the proposed ordinance will be advertised before being voted on at a future meeting.
In other business, supervisors voted unanimously to let Conoy Township handle the subdivision of a farm that is mostly in Conoy Township but that extends partly into West Donegal Township. Brothers Elam and John Huyard have purchased the former Fairview Farm and Stable just south of Turnpike Road and want to split it into two properties; engineer Todd Smeigh of D.C. Gohn Associates spoke to supervisors on their behalf and said it would be easier to have Conoy Township handle the review of the plan. Yoder said it would not cause any harm to West Donegal Township to defer review of the plan to Conoy Township.
Supervisors also continued a discussion from a previous meeting about buying a Ford Escape sport-utility vehicle for the Zoning/Building/Code Department and for general staff use. Yoder said an official township vehicle would present a more professional appearance than having township employees use their personal vehicles and getting reimbursed for mileage. Dunn said he would like to know what the current expenses for mileage are; Yoder said he would have that information available before the August meeting.