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Rules for property upkeep lacking in rural towns

Plus: Judges in Pa. can now dismiss charges for 'incompetent' defendants


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This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

November 24, 2022
Inside this edition: Lack of property maintenance codes in rural PA contributes to lower housing quality, turkey trots, and free meals. Happy Thanksgiving! We're thankful for your readership and support.
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Maps used with permission from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania

A widespread lack of property maintenance codes in rural Pennsylvania has worsened living conditions and stalled investment in those communities, argues a new study from a state agency.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, which serves the General Assembly, found that 89% of the state’s 1,592 rural municipalities “have not adopted property maintenance codes,” even though 1,201 rural municipalities follow the Uniform Construction Code, a set of widely adopted construction standards. 

“It contributes to the poverty cycle,” Claire Jantz, one of the study’s authors and a geography professor at Shippensburg University, told Spotlight PA. When homes are not properly maintained, the value never appreciates, she said. 

Data maps produced for the study show that municipalities without property codes have worse housing quality, though researchers hadn’t specifically evaluated whether there was a correlation.

The study also found that people living in urban areas were 24% more likely to be approved for home improvement loans than rural residents.

A higher amount of low-quality housing makes it harder to attract businesses, and can be a barrier to investment in communities, Jantz said. And property maintenance codes provide a standard that, if followed, can improve local living conditions, and stir local commerce.

Ideally, property maintenance codes ensure that a property is safe and maintains a certain level of appearance. Codes should have detailed specifications for electrical wiring, water leakage, roof and window conditions, air conditioning, and heating, said Ying Yang, the study’s co-author and a sociology professor at Shippensburg University.

Of the rural municipalities that do have property maintenance codes, 112 have adopted the International Property Maintenance Code, 10 have adopted guidelines from the Building Officials and Code Administrators International, and 53 have enacted their own local ordinances.

Rural municipalities often don’t have the funding and staff resources to create property maintenance codes, Yang said. And local elected officials may be concerned about their ability to enforce penalties, she added.

The researchers also looked at who owned the properties and found many of the homes that are poorly maintained are not owner-occupied. “As long as the buildings are rented, and they are collecting money, they don’t really care about the quality of the house,” Yang said. 

Because it’s up to each individual municipality, property maintenance codes themselves can vary drastically across rural regions of the state. 

“It's just incredibly fragmented,” Jantz said.

Ashad Hajela, rural affairs reporter and Report for America corps member
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The first snow of the year in central Pennsylvania — via @plumriverphoto

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Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Nov. 24: Kick off Thanksgiving morning with a Turkey Trot 5K in Boalsburg or Kane.

» Nov. 25: Holiday festivities abound as Kane lights its Christmas tree and hosts its Santa parade.

» Nov. 27: The Academy of Sacred Music continues its annual tradition of singing Handel's Messiah with the community.

» Nov. 29: Soweto Gospel Choir performs its Hope: It's Been a Long Time Coming concert at Eisenhower Auditorium.

» Nov. 29: Lightwire Theater presents A Very Electric Christmas at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
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