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Scranton landlords joining class-action lawsuit against rental-registration fees

More than 100 Scranton landlords recently joined a pending class-action lawsuit that challenges the city’s rental registration fees as arbitrary and excessive, and seeks refunds.

The city’s revision of rental registration rules in 2014, imposing fees of $150 per building, $50 per unit and inspections, spurred a lawsuit in 2015 in Lackawanna County Court from landlord Adam Guiffrida.

His lawsuit claims the city set arbitrary, high fees and imposed unwarranted inspections on only those few landlords who complied and registered their properties. Law requires that such fees are only supposed to cover administrative costs and not raise extra cash for city coffers, the suit contends.

Guiffrida, who is not opposed to having to pay “reasonable” rental registration fees, sued to force the city to refund overcharges to anyone who paid the fees in 2014-15.

For example, in 2014, the city collected $527,344 in fees, but the salaries of the two rental inspectors totaled $75,027, the lawsuit said.

In March 2016, a judge certified the complaint as a class action, which means all property owners who paid the fees would be entitled to share in any recovery, without having to file individual lawsuits.

The city responded in November by adopting a new rental registration overhaul focused on getting more properties registered; eliminating arbitrary, mandatory inspections; providing a family exemption; and scrapping a $150 per-building fee, but keeping the $50 per-unit fee.

Implementation and enforcement of these new rules has been on hold because the lawsuit remains unresolved, Guiffrida said.

During discussions about the lawsuit, the city also provided to Guiffrida’s attorney, Paul Batyko of Moosic, a color-coded spreadsheet list of 5,500 owners of rental units. Batyko determined that 1,267 of those paid registration fees in 2014-15. This group would be the potential class of plaintiffs.

Earlier this month, Batyko sent notices to the 1,267 landlords alerting them that if they want to be eligible for potential refunds, they must formally “opt in” as a class-action plaintiff with the court by a deadline of May 19.

As of Friday, 115 landlords filed opt-in letters in court.

Guiffrida said in a phone interview that the city in its most-recent overhaul arbitrarily maintained the $50 per unit fee, and also allowed for improper attempts to collect unpaid fees from tenants. He said he believes the city is stalling as a delay tactic to wear him down.

“The case is dragging,” Guiffrida said. “That’s the city’s method of defending this case, to drag it out to bleed me financially.”

Efforts to reach city solicitor Jessica Boyles were unsuccessful.  Read More