Pittsburgh’s repetitive extra-legal insanity

Pittsburgh’s repetitive extra-legal insanity

Yet again, a court of law has handed the City of Pittsburgh its hat (with yet another bite taken out of it) for enacting a local ordinance that is in contravention of the law.

This time, it’s a 2015 law that required landlords to accept Housing Choice Vouchers (more commonly known as Section 8 vouchers), monetary assistance from the federal government.

There are a couple of keys to consider in this matter:

First, landlord participation is supposed to be voluntary.

Second, the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter bars any ordinance that places affirmative “duties, responsibilities or requirements on private businesses and employers.”

It’s the same legal rationale that negated prior attempts by the city to infringe on the rights of private businesses and employers. And in this case, Commonwealth Court now has upheld a Common Pleas Court ruling against the city.

The city argued that allowing landlords to refuse to accept Section 8 vouchers amounts to discrimination based on “source of income.”

But the Apartment Association of Pittsburgh, representing property owners with more than 30,000 rental units, argued that the particulars of the program were illegally onerous.

Among them – using pre-approved government leases or those prepared by third parties; local housing authority oversight of rents (a form of rent control); a double rent-collection process (from the tenant and the housing authority); and criminal background checks of property owners.

As the lawsuit argued, the City of Pittsburgh “is mandating that residential landlords must do business with the federal government, under terms prescribed by the federal government and accept payment in the manner directed by the federal government.”

But, and as two courts now have ruled, that’s clearly in violation of Pittsburgh’s charter.

Time and time again, City of Pittsburgh officials have promulgated regulations that clearly are illegal. And time and time again, they’ve appealed lower court rulings and lost again. Yet they keep proposing illegal acts. Taxpayers should not be amused.

What’s the definition of insanity again? It’s found, starkly, in this kind of government behavior.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).