Pennsylvania law gives cities more muscle to attack blight
A new Pennsylvania law gives cities the power to extradite out-of-state property owners and file criminal charges against owners who fail to address property code violations. The Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act, formerly Senate Bill 900, was signed into law in October and took effect April 25 in the Keystone State. The act addresses properties with serious code violations that are determined to be public nuisances. It provides several remedies to address decaying properties. For example, beside the extradition option and potential criminal charges, cities can place a lien on an owner's assets, such as on a car, boat or bank account, for serious property code violations. Municipalities may also deny permits, such as building and zoning permits, to property owners for unremediated code violations and for delinquent payments on taxes, utilities or other city services, according to the law. Kim Venzie, with the West Chester, Pa., law firm Unruh Turner Burke & Frees, said she was surprised to see the criminal penalty option in the law and said it will be interesting to see if any cities opt to use the remedy. "I don't know if municipalities will want to get into that game," said Venzie, whose practice involves representing local governments. "It's got to be expensive to bring someone in from out of state." Still, she said the new law provides "some teeth" to those townships and boroughs to tackle blighted properties with a more vigorous set of remedies. The city of Hazelton, Pa., recently said it planned to tap the ability to place liens on assets of property owners who fail to keep their properties up to code. The law applies to residential, commercial and industrial buildings. The law also allows a municipality to recover the costs required to remediate a case under the act. Write to Kerry Curry. Follow her on Twitter @communicatorKLC.