State College is poised to require safety inspections beginning in 2024 for borough property owners who operate short-term rentals such as Airbnb and VRBO.

A proposed amendment to the property maintenance code would require all owners who acquire a short-term rental license to also pass the same housing inspection as long-term rentals and receive a standard rental permit from the Centre Region Code Administration. Borough council voted unanimously on Monday to place the amendment on the agenda for action at its Nov. 20 meeting.

In 2022, State College enacted a short-term rental ordinance that, among other regulations, requires an annual $300 license for properties rented out for 29 or fewer days a month and no more than 120 days a year. But, per the building safety and property maintenance code, only properties rented out for seven consecutive days or more are required to pass a safety inspection and receive a rental permit from the code administration.

The amendment would lower the borough’s number of days triggering the requirement of a permit issued by a code officer to one, effectively requiring all rental properties to pass a safety inspection. Bellefonte, College Township and Ferguson Township also require the permit for rentals of one or more days. Patton Township’s minimum is seven days and Harris Township’s is 30.

Council member Peter Marshall raised the issue at an Oct. 16 meeting, and staff determined the most effective way to implement an inspection requirement would be through a revision to the property maintenance code.

“The council is responsible for the health, welfare and safety of its residents and visitors. That’s our function,” Marshall said. “Whether it’s for one day or 30 days or a year, if a place is not safe and you have an incident, you’re going to wish you had done this. There’s no reason why someone renting for a weekend shouldn’t have the same safety as somebody renting for seven days or eight days.”

Centre Region Code safety inspections are done every three years and for State College rental properties currently cost $69 (a $47 code administration fee and a $22 borough fee), Walter Schneider, agency director for the Centre Region Code Administration, said.

Inspections include a review of the interior and exterior of the home for items such as heating, electrical, sanitation, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, handrails, mold and mildew, to name a few.

Once the code administration receives a list of short-term rental properties from the borough, they will contact the owners about setting up an inspection.

“At that point in time, when we [do] the inspections, the corrections are all based on what we find and we intend to work with folks to be able to make those over a reasonable period of time, realizing they already have a short-term rental permit,” Schneider said. “So we would be working with them for compliance. Most of the time they can make the changes quickly and efficiently, but if there is something that is a little more in-depth we will work with them with respect to timing. We do the same things when folks are buying properties and wanting to turn them into rentals.”

State College currently has 96 licensed short-term rentals and approximately 60 more are in process, Ed LeClear, borough planning director, said. Of those that are licensed, 15 already have a standard rental permit, so at least 81 would require a three-year safety inspection if and when the change goes into effect.

Council member Gopal Balachandran asked whether the inspections would be necessary, since the properties are single-family dwellings already occupied by owners who “presumably… [are] going to make sure that their family or their loved ones or themselves are going to be safe in their home.”

Homeowners decide what level of safety they will have for themselves, and code officials have little say in that, but the inspections for rentals are intended to ensure the safety of those who have no control over the property, Schneider said.

“…Unless the house was built today and we gave it a certificate of occupancy today, once we leave that house I can’t tell you how to maintain your house,” Schneider said. “This program was designed to provide a minimum level of safety for those who do not have control over the property, to have that minimum level of safety and the expectation of safety in the property.”

Council member Deanna Behring inquired whether there had been any incidents that would show the need for requiring the inspections for short-term rentals. Marshall said the goal should be to prevent any such incidents from occurring in the first place.

“We have had examples of problems here, and all you need is one,” Marshall said. “If you can avoid that one, it’s worthwhile.”

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