GLENOLDEN — Borough council has amended a local occupancy ordinance at the heart of a lawsuit brought earlier this year by a property owner and the Suburban Realtors Alliance.
Council voted Nov. 19 to bring its use and occupancy ordinance into compliance with Act 133 of 2016, the provisions of which underlie the suit filed by property owner Mohammed Z. Rahman in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in July.
Borough Solicitor Michael Puppio said Glenolden did formalize a new ordinance relating to certificates of occupancy, but called it “merely perfunctory.”
“It is the borough’s position that it has complied with all local and state laws in relation to the issuance of certificates of occupancy and denies the claims set forth by the plaintiffs in their lawsuit,” he wrote in an emailed statement Monday.
The SRA is nonetheless taking credit for the change in light of the lawsuit.
“Glenolden is finally doing the right thing,” SRA President and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Ridge stated in a release. “Unfortunately, it took us asking them repeatedly for three years, then filing a federal lawsuit to get to this point.”
Act 133, enacted in January 2017, amended the state’s Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act to address uniformity of municipal codes and arbitrary code enforcement, the suit says.
The MCOCA prohibits escrow requirements as a condition of obtaining occupancy certificates and provides that municipalities will issue temporary occupancy certificates if there are no “substantial violations,” or a temporary access certificate if a property has one or more substantial violations, according to the suit.
Rahman, of Lansdale, names Glenolden, council President Kenneth Pfaff, Vice President James Boothby, borough Manager Brian Razzi, Chief Code Enforcement Officer Anthony Tartaglia and Commonwealth Code Enforcement Inc. in an amended complaint.
Rahman says he entered into a sales agreement in February for a property he owned on the 400 block of West South Avenue. In connection with that sale, he requested that the borough perform an inspection of the property.
The borough found two violations concerning sidewalks and ductwork in the basement, according to the suit, neither of which were “substantial.” But Rahman says the borough still refused to issue any type of occupancy certificate.
The suit claims Glenolden instead advised Rahman on the morning of settlement that he would be allowed to proceed with the sale only if he completed repairs on the property within 30 days and provided a $5,000 escrow to the borough for repairs.
Rahman sold the property March 29, provided the $5,000 escrow and completed the repairs within 30 days, the complaint says. Glenolden issued an occupancy certificate and sometime later returned the $5,000, according to the suit.
But Rahman says the borough then issued five criminal citations to him for allegedly failing to have an occupancy permit when the property was sold, each of which imposes a $240.75 fine. That matter is pending before Magisterial District Judge Michael A. Burns.
Ridge said that despite the new ordinance adoption, the SRA plans to continue pressing the lawsuit and will keep an eye on Glenolden for any future alleged infractions.
“The borough made up its own rules, then broke them,” he said. “You can bet we’ll be watching closely to make sure Glenolden sticks to the law it just enacted so that its residents get the benefit of the new ordinance.”
The defendants are represented by Robert DiDomenicis, who previously declined commenting on any pending litigation.
Glenolden and the other defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, however, arguing the SRA has no standing because Rahman is not a member or client, and the complaint has otherwise failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Rahman and the SRA have been given until Dec. 20 to file an answer. The case is pending before U.S. District Court Judge John M. Younge.