Saturday, July 12, 2014

Pittston: Ordinance case belongs in federal court

Lawsuit takes issue with city’s rental inspection and safety law

December 26. 2013 11:26PM

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Lawyers for Pittston want a lawsuit filed against the city’s rental inspection and safety ordinance last month to be heard in federal court.

According to paperwork filed Thursday by Philadelphia attorney Patricia A. Fecile-Moreland, the action may be moved to U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania because the suit contains allegations that the plaintiffs’ federal civil rights have been violated, and because they are seeking a declaration that ordinances are unconstitutional.

The case was filed Nov. 14 in Luzerne County Court on behalf of landlords Robert Bejeski, Helen Brigido and the Northeast Pennsylvania Landlord Tenant Homeowner Association.

City Council last summer updated an ordinance requiring biennial safety and fire inspections of all rental units and businesses. Amid criticism that fines were excessive and time restrictions were too tight, Council in October relaxed the penalties and time restrictions.

Bejeski and the association say the legislation is unconstitutional and flawed. Philadelphia attorney John F. Bradley, who represents the landlords, has said the lawsuit actually takes issue with three city ordinances:

• Ordinance 6 passed in July, which updated the city’s rental inspection ordinance;

• Ordinance 9, which lowered the fines and relaxed time restrictions of July’s ordinance;

• Ordinance 4 of 2008, the city’s nuisance ordinance.

According to court paperwork, the plaintiffs previously agreed to grant the city an extension of time to respond to the suit, setting Jan. 9 as the deadline.

Reached Thursday, Bradley said he was aware of the filing but had not yet had a chance to discuss it with his clients.

In a previous interview, he explained the suit hinges on four points: the penalty provision of the rental inspection law is unconstitutional because of its vagueness; it is illegal under the state’s tax enabling act, which requires it to be revenue-neutral; information sought from landlords on forms violates the state’s right to privacy statutes; and the city’s nuisance ordinance of 2008 violates residents’ right to due process of law by allowing the police chief to act as a judge in determining if a property is a nuisance property.

Bradley said Thursday he doesn’t foresee any reason to object to the case being heard in federal court, but stressed that he must consult with his clients before formally taking a position on the matter.

“I think this is another indication that they obviously take us seriously,” Bradley said of the city’s latest move.

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