L&I coming down hard on slumlords

BEFORE: 3320 Mutter st. house before L&I compelled the owner to replace dysfunctional windows or face heavy fines of $300 per window per day.
BEFORE: 3320 Mutter st. house before L&I compelled the owner to replace dysfunctional windows or face heavy fines of $300 per window per day. (Photo: Dan Geringer)
Posted: October 26, 2011

THE GLORY DAYS of Philadelphia slumlords will end this week when the city's Licenses and Inspections Department begins hauling their blighted butts into court and kicking them hard in their personal assets.

For years, absentee owners of blighted vacant properties that ruin otherwise-stable blocks had it easy because L&I sent violation notices to the nuisance houses - an exercise in futility if there ever was one.

Those days are over. Boldly going where no L&I commissioner has gone before, Fran Burns will extradite out-of-town owners and usher them into the city's new blight court (City Hall, Room 447), where Municipal Judge Bradley Moss can order them to fix their festering hellholes or pay thousands of dollars in daily fines.

Patty-Pat Kozlowski, director of Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic Association (PROPAC), said that the aggressive new slacker-attack's first two victories were huge.

"There were two dilapidated flop houses in the middle of Richmond Street [between Venango Street and Castor Avenue] - one with a tree growing through it - that had drugs, prostitution, a couple fires set, code violations out the wazoo," Kozlowski said.

"Maryann Trombetta, president of our Town Watch, took so many pictures you could thumb through them like a flip book and see those houses sinking and sagging."

Because the houses were imminently dangerous, L&I demolished them. The cleared vacant lots can now be sold at market value. The 3600 block of Richmond Street is whole again.

Demolition is not the main focus of L&I's muscular new program because most of the blighted houses it is targeting are structurally sound but so badly neglected that they've become nuisance properties, threatening to destabilize residential blocks.

Burns said that Maura Kennedy, L&I's director of strategic initiatives, has assembled a tenacious team of Internet-savvy interns who track down the absentee owners of blighted properties.

Then Burns and city solicitor Shelley Smith send a letter warning that if they don't bring their properties up to code, they face stiff fines and "seizure of personal assets."

On blocks that are 80 percent occupied, those fines can be $300 per day for each window and each door that is not up to code - which, in a typical row house, can quickly soar into the tens of thousands of dollars.

"This is no longer a city where you can abandon your property and allow it to become blighted," Burns said. "We will make it very expensive for you if you do."

Burns said that John Valentino owns nine nuisance vacant properties, including an abandoned veterans' club on Indiana Avenue near Richmond Street with 26 dysfunctional windows.

Valentino told the Daily News yesterday that he has already corrected the violations on seven of his properties, and will be in full compliance on the veterans' club and a smaller property by his Nov. 22 court date.

"I'm not a bad guy," Valentino said. "I have a family. I have a business in the neighborhood. I'm trying to do the right thing."

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