With the city still smarting from the deaths of two firefighters killed battling a blaze in a vacant warehouse that had been the target of numerous complaints and code violations, there is no need for an anecdote to illustrate why it’s important to ratchet up property maintenance enforcement.
Councilman Bobby Henon sought to address the issue Thursday when he introduced legislation to create a Problem Property Task Force. The group would be chaired by the managing director and consist of representatives from any city department that desires to participate, including the district attorney’s office, L&I and the offices of the police, fire and health commissioners.
“We’re reacting to violations and property maintenance concerns before they escalate further,” Henon said. “An integral part is each department that deals with quality of life issues communicates with each other.”
The ordinance would give power to the managing director to declare residential buildings “problem properties” once they have two or more Property Maintenance Code, excessive noise or litter violations or if they are host to persistent activities or conditions that pose a significant safety hazard.
Owners would be subject to a $2,000 a day fine for each violation, participation in an educational program designed by the task force and the cost of a police officer, who would be posted on the premises to prevent harm if a property poses a severe danger.
“It’s time to enforce code violations,” Henon said. “We need to start thinking about how and why our buildings fall into disarray, why they get abandoned in the first place and how we respond to the first call from residents.”
‘Change the culture of the city’
Henon also called out several property owners by name for negligence during Thursday’s Council session and said they would soon be subpoenaed to testify before a committee hearing on problem landlords. “This is the next step in changing behaviors,” he said.
He said that he had already sent letters to those he listed through his Bad Neighbor Initiative and has been working to deal with problem properties since he was elected to Council in 2011.
“I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and I have lived there most of my life. I have watched it deteriorate,” he said. “This is a part of a bigger effort. … I believe we can change the culture of the city.”