Good Fight Vs. Superbad Properties

Posted: March 02, 2012

E MPTY diaper boxes, pieces of carpet, a bucket and restaurant menus litter the front yard of a vacant house two doors down from Peggy Onuskanych's home in Holmesburg. The owner of the property does nothing about it.

"I'd just like to have them clean up," said Onuskanych, 57, who lives on Oakmont Street near Ditman. "Somebody's got to do something."

Roughly 65 percent of the calls that 6th District Councilman Bobby Henon has received since taking office in January are complaints about bad neighbors and neglectful landlords.

Henon recently launched the Bad Neighbor Initiative - a campaign targeting problem landlords and neighbors in his district in an effort to bring tax delinquents and city-code violators into compliance.

"I'm going after the worst of the worst that is destroying our neighborhoods," Henon said.

If necessary, he will subpoena them to testify before Council, he said.

On his website he started a problem-property map of landlords with code violations and unpaid taxes in his Northeast Philly district, along with details of the citations and the amount owed in back taxes.

Henon said he gathered the data from various city agencies and public records. The names and addresses of the bad neighbors are not on the site - yet. He said that notices would soon be sent to landlords and their neighbors.

"Property values go down, crime goes up and it has a ripple effect with blight and destroying the neighborhood," Henon said.

In his district, 1,411 properties had at least one maintenance violation in 2011. There are roughly 3,500 property-tax delinquents who owe $11 million - money he said that could pay for more cops and recreation centers .

Henon plans to introduce a package of bills to increase penalties for property owners and tenants who violate the law. Councilman Bill Greenlee yesterday introduced legislation that would require that those who operate rental dwellings obtain a housing-inspection license, and that properties be up to code before a license is issued. Anyone caught operating a rental without a license from L&I would be fined $150. The measure would also prohibit those with fines and violations from renewing their license.

Meanwhile, the Nutter administration has made strides in going after bad landlords.

In 2008, 140,000 rental units were registered with the city, generating $6.5 million in revenue. Now, there are 240,000 rental units registered generating $11.7 million, L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy said.

Last year, the city filed 3,260 cases against those who did not have rental licenses.

"We're taking it seriously," Kennedy said. "People are complying and they're getting into court if they're not complying."

Contact Jan Ransom at 215-854-5218 or ransomj@, or follow on Twitter @Jan_Ransom. Read her blog, "PhillyClout" at

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