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Variance allows landlord to have two or more unrelated people living in building because it’s mostly used for business

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 3/20/19

A Middletown landlord is getting relief from the borough’s prohibition against two or more unrelated people living in the same single-family dwelling — the ordinance that has been a point …

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Variance allows landlord to have two or more unrelated people living in building because it’s mostly used for business

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A Middletown landlord is getting relief from the borough’s prohibition against two or more unrelated people living in the same single-family dwelling — the ordinance that has been a point of contention for some Penn State Harrisburg students.

Following a public hearing, and after about an hour of deliberating the issue behind closed doors, the zoning hearing board March 12 voted 3-0 to grant a variance to Young Investment Group LLC, regarding a property that the group owns at 457 N. Spring St.

Scott Young, co-owner of the group, succeeded in making the case that the prohibition should not apply to his property because it is an existing “nonconforming” use in the R-2 residential zoning district.

Those who spoke against the variance said renting out individual bedrooms hurts the “integrity” of the neighborhood, lowers property values and makes parking a problem.

Young said his property includes a house with three bedrooms that he now rents to two unrelated people. He also runs a business out of the property, and said that the primary use of the property as a whole is commercial.

In that respect, Young said that instead of a residence, his property should be considered more like other properties in Middletown that are not subject to the prohibition because they have a commercial use on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors, and as such are deemed primarily commercial in use.

Young applied for the variance after he had sought to lease the third bedroom to another individual, leading to an anonymous complaint that was filed with the borough.

Young received a letter dated July 31, 2018, from borough Zoning & Codes Officer Al Geosits, saying that Young risked being cited if he allowed a third unrelated person to move into the house.

The borough’s prohibition against two or more unrelated people living in the same house does not specifically refer to Penn State Harrisburg students.

However, opponents who have urged the borough to amend the prohibition or get rid of it contend that the borough is targeting students.

Regarding his two current tenants, Young said one is a Penn State Harrisburg graduate student, but the other is not a student and works at Middletown Area School District.

Young said he previously had a third unrelated person leasing one of the bedrooms in the house — before Young said he was made aware of the prohibition — but that this person was also not a Penn State Harrisburg student.

The board during the hearing heard testimony objecting to granting Young the variance from owners of two other houses that are on North Spring Street.

Lori Shafaye and husband AB Shafaye, who own and live in a house at Spring and Main streets, said granting the ordinance would further a trend of people in the neighborhood converting their owner-occupied homes into rental units where each bedroom is being leased to individuals.

“We’ve had an enormous problem with parking because the homes are now being rented per bedroom,” Lori Shafaye said, adding that owners of the house next door to them are renting out all five bedrooms of their property, and that the occupants now need 11 parking spaces.

“We appreciate the ordinance,” Shafaye said, referring to the prohibition against two or more unrelated people living in a single family dwelling. “If we didn’t have the ordinance, it would not be there to protect the integrity of the residential families there.”

Lori Shafaye contended that when landlords go against the ordinance, it decreases property values and has made it harder for families to find houses to rent in Middletown, because of so many landlords preferring to rent to individuals by the bedroom.

“People have learned that the campus (Penn State Harrisburg) is getting $1,000 a month for a bed when there are three or four students in an apartment, so they have caught wind of that in the past few years and now they want the same,” AB Shafaye told the board. “We’re not objecting to you making money off your property, but there has to be certain limits so that the rest of the neighborhood is in good health also.”

Young responded that the conditions described by the Shafayes and owners of the other property, Deborah and Kim Mrakovich in the 500 block of North Spring Street, reflect “general” problems that should not be applied to his request.

“I have not had any problems specific to my property in this whole thing. This has all been general about Middletown. It’s unfair to my request today that everything is based on properties farther away,” he said.

Representing the borough was solicitor Jim Diamond, who before the board went into closed-door deliberations argued against granting the variance to Young.

Diamond contended Young had not met “minimal grounds” to qualify for the variance.

“Essentially you are allowing either unregulated nonconforming student housing, or a boarding house,” Diamond said.

Young also had not shown a “hardship” that would prevent him from renting the property to a family, instead of individuals.

Diamond also agreed with Shafaye about people leasing their properties per bedroom making it more difficult for families to find rental properties in Middletown.

The board returned with a motion from board member Donald Graham that the variance be granted to Young, as “the lease to three occupants is an existing nonconforming use.”

The vote was unanimous, with Chairman Jack Still and member Robert Fallinger both siding with Graham’s motion. Still said the board will issue a decision within 45 days, and that the decision can be appealed to Dauphin County Court by the applicant or by any “other interested parties.”