Mayor, township clerk believe CO will benefit future Mt. Laurel residents

Council Ordinance 2021-8 will go into effect after July 31.

Mt. Laurel Council had its first public reading on March 22 of Ordinance 2021-8, a measure that would continue certification of occupancy (CO) and be effective after July 31.

Mayor Stephen Steglik ensured residents of his goal to protect the safety of current and new homeowners.  

“Whether it’s a first-time home buyer or a senior buying, we want to ensure the safety of all of our incoming residents here in Mount Laurel Township,” he said. “You know, we want them to be here a long time, and we don’t want them regretting buying a home here.” 

After a recommendation from Construction Code officials that will require homes to have internal inspections, the council plans to make Ordinance 2021-8 effective after July 31. The decision is based on safety issues that will require homeowners to have a mandated level of maintenance to their property.

But the ordinance has township council, employees, and residents divided over buyer safety, seller expenses, and establishment of practices to ensure residential properties on the market are up to code.

“There’ve been a lot of houses in the market that have work done without permits, and then they’re being flipped by people that are buying them, and we’ve never inspected to make sure the work is done properly,” said Township Clerk/Manager Meredith Tomczyk

Homes with open permits can have their sales impacted, so a recommendation was made for the council to require an inspection before the sale of a property, Tomczyk added.  

Construction site officials are putting together a checklist of safety issues, such as hazardous walkways, patios, and decks. Windows, sinks, tubs, showers, and toilets must be in working order.

“We don’t come in and say, ‘Oh, your air conditioner and heater is 25 years old.’  We just make sure that it’s properly installed,” Tomczyk explained.

The CO was brought up at a reading last year, but the council could not make a decision then because of COVID. It was suggested the discussion be revisited at a later date, according to the mayor. 

“Once a new council came in, we were discussing with our township departments what are some of the changes that they would like to see that would make their job easier and also protect our township residents,” Steglik noted. “They think in their expert opinion this is one of the things that our construction officials had decided upon early.” 

Steglik is aware of concerns raised about the CO after its first reading and he addressed some of them, such as reaching out to the Nexus Realtor Association to work with construction officials.

“One of the concerns a resident had was that the fees were too high and abnormally high to similar ordinances in neighboring towns,” Steglik revealed. “Throughout South Jersey, we assessed those fees; [Tomczyk] and I agreed that the fees we first proposed were too high, so we lowered them significantly.”

At a recent council meeting on April 15, residents expressed concern that the ordinance lacked specific information on what’s required of a homeowner prior to inspection, but Steglik said no final decision will be made until the CO checklist is properly publicized. The time frame was pushed back to summer to help promote new information on the town website, Facebook page, and township newsletter. 

Tomczyk reiterated that the township isn’t looking to fine homeowners who don’t have the proper inspections. Mt. Laurel currently requires only yearly rental inspections for tenants.

“I think it is important to be able to raise the standard that we’re trying to accomplish here in Mount Laurel,” Steglik said. “And make sure that the safety protocols that residents are concerned about are implemented in a way that makes Mount Laurel an overall better place to purchase a home.”