Langhorne Borough Proposed Residential Rental Ordinance, and What It Means for Renters and Property Owners


Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

James Bonnell

A recent Langhorne Borough Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 21, 2022, took a bit of a turn from the recent PennDOT Route 1 construction project when it dove headfirst into the rising issue of a proposed update to possibly outdated rental ordinances.

Every third Wednesday of the month, the Planning Commission holds an open forum style meeting where any Langhorne Borough citizens can come and respond to proposed changes to the area before they are brought forth to the Town Council.

In this particular case, the meeting began with an ordinance that will attempt to bring some clarity to legal rights of renters, rental property owners, and live-in homeowners.

The proposed ordinance would require owners to begin the eviction process after three incident reports within a three-year period. These incident reports are referred to as “Disruptive Conduct Reports.”

Also, the ordinance declares that all tenants who receive three reports within a three-year period be added to a list maintained by the municipality.

What is to be done with this list exactly remains to be seen. Seemingly, the list is more so a protective documentation measure rather than a form of legal action.

Acting as a barrier between owners and renters, the list will allow owners access to information regarding the legitimacy of potential renters, available to the public, and is to be maintained for a period of three years.

“It will protect the value of the owner of the property. It will make sure the property isn’t being trashed,” expressed Council and Planning Commission Person Kathy Horwatt.

While legal action doesn’t seem to be the initial desired response to disruptive tenants, many council people and residents feel it to be necessary in cases that may require legal action down the line.

During this meeting, Town Council President Paul Murdoch defined these reports as, “…a written report of disruptive conduct, that is completed by a police officer, or a municipal enforcement official who has investigated the matter.”

Murdoch continued by explaining that, “A municipal enforcement official is an individual dully appointed by the municipality with the responsibility of enforcing this ordinance, or such similar codes of the municipality.”

To be clear, this means that these reports would not require actual police reports in order to be filed.

“A criminal or civil citation is not required for a disruptive order to be issued,” noted Murdoch.

If approved by town council, this ordinance will not apply to home or property owners. Owners will continue to be protected by laws that allow them to retain their owned properties.

So, while a rental tenant may at some point face eviction depending on how this list is used, property owners need not worry about facing eviction in the face of either disruptive incident reports or even criminal citations from law enforcement.

Where much of this discussion apparently was sparked by one specific rented property within the borough, many residents have expressed general concerns about many properties.

A resident who wishes to remain unnamed described to me incidents where renters had planted drugs on their property, sent golf balls soaring over their backyard, and held late night domestic disputes on more than one occasion.

Another resident described seeing a shirtless man screaming at a prominent intersection in broad daylight.

It is important to point out that most property owners in this area know each other and have been there for years. Incidents involving unruly, shirtless individuals don’t generally involve property owners in the borough.

According to a 2010 census report, rental properties in the borough account for 43 percent of housing, where 57 percent are owner occupied. On top of this, 49 percent of all housing are properties that were built before 1940.

In a place where historical significance, pride, and aesthetic are major concerns for residents, situations with renters threaten the very fabric of the location’s value.

Many of the homes in the residential districts are also Victorian era. Which means their foundations are not appropriate for destructive tenants.

Written in 2014, the planning commission produced a nearly 300-page document outlining current numbers, trends, and districts in the borough. The document is known as “The Langhorne Borough Comprehensive Plan.”

Within this document, members of the planning commission put forward a number of potential future scenarios and desired outcomes.

Following, the “Four Boroughs Regional Comprehensive Plan” of 1975, which was tethered to the Langhorne Manor, Penndel, and Hulmeville municipalities, the 2014 plan understands the nature of change, and the importance of accounting for such change.

Even in the beginning of the document, the planning commission declares they wish to continue diversity in residential districts. They do not want to put a clamp on renters, but rather find a harmony between renters and property owners.

Being that population is on the rise, and homeowner numbers are declining, it makes sense that the nature of unruly renters would be an important issue to address. Especially is such a small borough.

“I don’t hate rental properties. I think people should be allowed to rent out. However, I think landlords need to be more responsible with choosing tenants,” confirmed Planning Commission Member Michael Berling.

That is what the ordinance is really about.

“We are looking to reign in current tenants. And frankly, finding a way to have better control over how nuisance tenants are able to persist in the borough,” Murdoch explained.

Longtime borough resident and previous renter, Jake Almeida, just signed a lease outside of the borough because his previous rental property owners have begun turning the house into short term, or Airbnb style rentals.

“When I was living there, there was one Airbnb property on the first floor, and the rest were apartments, save from the side where the owners lived. But I wouldn’t be surprised if when I’m gone, they turn the whole place into Airbnb’s,” said Almeida.

With this in mind, the question becomes how these short-term properties will be impacted by this proposed ordinance.

According to the commission meeting, there is a separate ordinance that pertains to such properties.

“Airbnb rentals are a much different situation. I am also not completely against Airbnb’s, but again, more responsibility needs to be placed on property owners,” offered Berling.

In a world where ride sharing programs like Uber and Lyft have automotive insurance companies rewriting policies on a daily basis, the world of owned property use is being thrown for a loop with programs like Airbnb and Vrbo.

Each program will have its own policies and therefore require its own documentation and ordinances.

While the ordinance in question is but a suggestion as of now, this is how it works.

“The goal is that the ordinance will gain traction for a vote by council,” declared Berling.

In the event that the town council approves the ordinance, the hope is that the list will act as a deterrent to questionable renters, if nothing else.