Surprise! Fountain Hill Borough Discovers 700 Unreported Rental Units

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The unofficial slogan for Fountain Hill borough for many years has been “it’s a thrill to live on the hill.” Borough officials however were less than thrilled to discover recently that the borough had drastically undercounted its rental units.

Tough day at the office? Tell that to Tom Wargo, Fountain Hill borough’s new zoning and codes enforcement officer, who recently found out his department had been accounting for fewer than half of the borough’s rental units.

Wargo, who was hired late last year, made the discovery during his initial investigations as the borough’s newly-appointed full-time zoning and codes enforcement officer. 

“He started during the last quarter of 2019, so he is currently just working to get us up to date on our rental inspections and permits,” said Fountain Hill Borough Council president Leo Atkinson. “Our previous zoning and codes enforcement officer was only part-time, so Mr. Wargo has been able to investigate and discover a large number of rental properties that we had previously been unaware of.”

Wargo was originally told the borough has around 350 rental units last year when he took over. Following some investigation including research on the county website, he determined the true number of units to be closer to 1,050.

Wargo also discovered that none of the borough’s rental units had been charged an annual $50 rental license fee since it was introduced in Ordinance No. 637, which was adopted by council in January 2000.

He said his department has been working on collecting the fees since he took over, although as Atkinson explained, the borough can’t recoup the missing money from prior years because it has no way of proving when the housing was converted to rental units.

Collecting the annual rental license fee from now on will generate more than $50,000 in annual revenue, based on the borough’s new rental unit estimate.

The discovery of the extra units, however, means increased work for borough zoning staff, who are responsible for inspecting the borough’s rental units every two years. 

Wargo said he believes the discrepancy in the estimated number of rental units could be attributed to the fact that the department had been understaffed for some time.

Atkinson added that Wargo’s increased ability to enforce the borough’s existing ordinances was a “large factor” in council’s decision to bring on a full-time zoning officer. 

Wargo mentioned that the discovery of the additional units, as well as the unenforced rental license requirement, has come as a shock to both Fountain Hill residents and landlords.

Overall, however, he said the response has generally been positive, as the borough can now properly manage and account for its rental properties.

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