Business owner Harry Strehle addressed Latrobe City Council publicly for a second time on Monday, claiming that he had broken the code at 223 Main Street.
The building currently houses the Strehle, Valley Graphics store, as well as several residential units on the upper floor.
Strehle told the council last month about several problems he experienced renting the shop front, including a leaking roof. An alleged repair, he said, resulted in a plumber placing buckets in a unit above Valley Graphics to allegedly try unsuccessfully to catch dripping water.
At a February 13 City Council meeting, Latrobe Code Enforcement and Zoning Officer James Nieusma said he would continue to contact the landlord.
On Monday, Strehle referred to the property maintenance code for Latrobe in relation to complaints of third-party violations of the code.
“For the correction or compliance of violations, the minimum time for correction is not less than seven days and the maximum time for correction is 30 days,” he said. Strehle said he first filed a complaint regarding the property with city officials in the first week of December 2022. Nieusma said he was in the shop on January 3 and contacted the property owner by phone on January 9 and February 27, which was the last time he spoke to her.
“The roof drips onto the outlets,” said Strehle. “Another complaint is really bad and irresponsible management and communication. My shop does not have its own redundant heating system. Literally just now (Monday) I recorded on my phone my electrical circuit breaker panel making a buzzing, grinding noise.
“It’s not just the roof, which by the way was leaking again two days ago. It really feels like the situation is in this landlord’s favor at the moment and has been since July (2022).”
To get the landlord to address the alleged problems, Strehle said he hadn’t paid rent on the commercial property in three months; He now reportedly has a court date with his landlord to claim the unpaid rent.
“I have to go to court because (the landlord) is trying to get $5,400 because I didn’t pay the rent because my roof leaked,” he said. “It’s not just about business; Are you not interested in the tenants in the apartments?”
Latrobe Mayor Eric Bartels noted that city officials must remain neutral and follow laws, suggesting they are not necessarily in favor of a landlord or tenant in an alleged dispute.
“Anyone who’s been in that building can see ceiling tiles falling off,” Strehle said. “It’s crazy, it’s nonsense, and all I’m asking is a little help from the city to defend myself and my business from slumlords.”
The council discussed conducting inspections of rental properties last year, but the initiative was tabled on Sept. 12, 2022, after nearly a dozen landlords publicly scoffed at a section of the city’s proposed anti-rot ordinance. Landlords are currently required to register their properties with the city, but there are no rental property inspections.
Bartels said efforts to control the disease in the city have stepped up over the past three years and the issue remains on the “radar” of city officials.
Nieusma said the last time he spoke to the landlord, he was told the roof leaks would be fixed.
“She had people actively working on the building when I called, so I said within a week,” Nieusma said. “As soon as it rains, we know if it’s leaking again. What she did, she fixed leaks in four different locations. She has been actively working on this issue since it was brought to her attention. All of this takes time.”
During an on-site visit, Nieusma said he saw the housing unit directly above Valley Graphics; The unit had “holes in the wall,” and a worker showed Nieusma a leak. At the time, it appeared as if water had leaked from a radiator, Nieusma said. Further inspections confirmed the leak, and this issue has reportedly been fixed.
“They fixed a roof leak, a leaking radiator and two pipes running from the ceiling to the floor of the building, all of which were leaking in different places and causing leaks in the men’s store,” Nieusma said. “Each of these takes time, and she has been actively working the whole time. I can’t blame her for an infraction if she’s actively working on it.”
While code enforcement officers are allowed into a building at the request of a tenant into the tenant’s area, or at the request of the landlord, Nieusma said that in addition, he must obtain a court-ordered search warrant to go in and search further.
“So far there hasn’t been anything that deserves a search warrant because I can see what was going on and it was actively being worked on,” he said. “There is nothing further I can do at this point.”
Latrobe Councilor James Kelley suggested that Nieusma contact the property owner and set a firm deadline for the repairs. However, he warned that finding a reliable roofer could be difficult at the moment due to the cold temperatures.
“The last time we spoke, she was trying to hire another roofer,” Nieusma said. “Roofers are a hot commodity right now and they can’t get anyone to come out and react. But she has people in there working.”
Strehle told City Council the building’s current condition “puts its business at risk” but reiterated his stance that Latrobe has “potential”.
“If I didn’t care, I would pack my things and leave,” he said. “I see a lot of potential for this city.”
Officials advised Strehle to continue filing complaints with Nieusma, who said he would be in touch with the property owner today.
“I’m going to watch her documentary to see what she did,” Nieusma said. “If it doesn’t meet reasonable criteria, I will report a violation.”
In other matters, Bartels said, city officials interviewed seven candidates for the post of police chief on Saturday.
Latrobe Police Sgt. Robert Derk has served as acting boss since September 2022 following the retirement of former boss John Sleasman.
Bartels said the candidates were “extremely qualified” and he wasn’t sure when a decision on a second round of interviews would be made. After Monday’s meeting, the mayor said he had no timetable in mind for the council to appoint a new police chief.
Latrobe City Council is next due to meet in the Council chambers on 27 March at 6.30pm.