Philadelphia mayor takes aim at vacant properties
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is on a crusade to end neighborhood blight created by an influx of abandoned properties throughout his city. Nutter and Fran Burns, who serves as Philadelphia's licenses and inspections commissioner, unveiled a new program last week that forces vacant property owners to either bring their property up to code or face hundreds of dollars in fines and the possible seizure of their real estate. So far, Burns and Nutter identified 25,000 vacant properties throughout the city that either lack a license or remain abandoned because of city code violations. The Philadelphia leaders designed a three-step program to force the issue with absentee property owners. First, they will dispatch a team of researchers to cull through databases to locate up-to-date contact information for each property owner. The city also is rolling out a doors-and-windows ordinance that forces vacant property holders to ensure every opening on a residence is outfitted with a functional door or window. Under the new rule, the licenses and inspections commissioner can ask the court to fine owners up to $300 for each day that a property opening remains without a functional cover. Bright pink posters will be pasted on properties that remain out of compliance with this rule. In tandem with the windows and doors program, a state act allows the L&I commissioner to ask the court to attach code violation fines to the owner's personal property. In addition, the fines may be used at a later date to pull the property into a sheriff's sale. “Philadelphia residents can no longer afford to have vacant properties harming their neighborhoods,” said Mayor Nutter. “Abandoned buildings tarnish blocks, bring crime and encourage illegal dumping. The city is committed to holding these landowners responsible. Eliminating vacant and blighted properties will benefit our neighborhoods and encourage development.” The city is working with a local judge to set aside specific days for vacant property hearings to expedite the process. Nutter's office says a study commissioned by the Philadelphia Association of Community Development and RDA found that vacant properties end up costing the area approximately $3.8 billion in lost household wealth. Write to Kerri Panchuk.