The topics ranged from absentee landlords to the Act 47 plan to city steps at last week's 16th Ward Block Watch meeting in Arlington.
Guests included District Justice Eileen Conroy, city administrative assistant Bill Fry and Barbara Zirngibl, environmental health specialist with the Allegheny County Health Dept. City council President Gene Ricciardi also stopped by briefly.
Conroy began the meeting by introducing herself, and telling attendees to stop by her office for a variety of services including notarizing and performing marriage ceremonies.
Her office is located at: 1700 East Carson St., Suite 300, Maul Building. The hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Notarizing is free.
Questioned what to do about absentee landlords, Conroy said she sits on Housing Court, and will look into any addresses residents give her.
Another attendee suggested employing the “private right of action”, which allows residents to bypass the Bureau of Building Inspection and take landlords directly to Housing Court. Residents collect the evidence themselves, such as by taking photographs, and then testify in court. Notices of the court date and time are mailed to the resident.
Ricciardi said he would report back with more information on the practice at the next meeting.
Regarding the city budget, Fry said the plan formulated by the Act 47 board entails cuts, reduction in some services, and possibly layoffs. Mayor Murphy can either accept or reject the plan: he can't modify it, said Fry.
If not approved, the city has 10 days to devise its own plan. If none, the city's on its own, without state assistance. Fry predicted the city would accept the plan.
A public hearing before city council on the plan will occur on June 22, followed by a preliminary vote on June 23, and a final vote on June 29. To register to speak at the public hearing, call 412-255-2138.
To a question of how public safety would be affected, Fry said if officers are cut, he hopes they will be office workers and none off the street. The closing of fire stations and cutting of firefighter jobs, which is proposed in the Act 47 plan, won't occur before 2006.
Also proposed in the plan are 15 percent budget cuts for the mayor's office and city council.
On the problem of landlords with multiple tenants but who pay taxes on a single dwelling, Fry said it has to be proven there are multiple tenants. If someone purchases a single-family home which they then make into three residences, zoning regulations must be met.
Conroy said landlord and tenant cases can be troublesome. For example, three people may sign a lease but seven people might move in. Landlords don't know who's living in the home and, if problems arise, the tenants may be long gone by the time it reaches court.
Zirngibl said under county health regulations, four or more unrelated people sharing bathrooms makes the dwelling a rooming house, for which a permit is required. And, once a permit is issued, the county conducts annual inspections.
So, said block watch co-coordinator Debbie Neumeyer, the city and county should both be called about multiple tenant complaints.
Fry said that, while the landlords association is very strong,
he hopes Ricciardi's legislation, which holds landlords responsible for tenant problems, is passed. After police are dispatched to a home a third time in 30 days, the house would become a nuisance property, with landlords fined for an officer's time.
Another complaint was residents setting their garbage by the curb on Sundays although pick-up isn't until Wednesday. The Mayor's Service Center is called but to no avail.
For questions regarding paper streets, or streets which, although appearing on maps have had nothing done with them, residents should call the Public Works Dept.
To a query about the proposed closing of city steps by Mayor Murphy to save money on upkeep, Fry said some steps are never used, while some sets are so close together they can be easily consolidated. But the Public Works Dept. will make the decision.
Conroy said juveniles ordered to perform community service aren't assigned steps clean-up because of liability issues. There's also the problem of supervision.
Regarding the vandalized former dialysis center in the 2300 block of Arlington Ave., it can be purchased for $800,000, said Zirngibl, although it cost $2 million to build.
What led to its closing, she said, was that the kidney doctor who said he'd refer all his patients there backed out when offered a better deal elsewhere. As a result, instead of 40 clients at the center there were only four, leading to its closing after only eight months.
The building has been plagued by vandals ever since, with the cost to replace the broken lights in back estimated at $3500. Graffiti is also a major problem. Block watch co-coordinator Mary Lavelle said the city doesn't have the police to assign there to watch for vandals.
Zirngibl said the owner doesn't want to put boards on the windows because it will deter potential buyers.
“Parents need to be responsible for kids,” she said.
The next block watch meeting will be held on August 9 at 7 p.m. at St. Henry's Social Hall. Representatives from the city's Public Works Dept., including the Bureau of Environmental Services, will be invited to speak.