Ron Graziano, chief of the city's Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI), answered questions about condemned houses, building permits, liened property, and more at the October 9 meeting of the 16th Ward Block Watch in Arlington.
The evening's other speaker was District Justice Gene Ricciardi.
BBI regulates the construction, demolition, and occupancy of all buildings. It also reviews, approves, and issues all permits required by code pertaining to buildings and structures.
The agency has 10 code enforcement inspectors for 32 city wards. Code enforcement involves quality-of-life issues like grafitti, cracked sidewalks, and abandoned cars.
Such issues comprise “the meat and potatoes of the ten code enforcers,” said Mr. Graziano.
The code enforcement officer for the block watch area is Margaret Malle, who oversees the 4th, 16th and 17th wards.
The BBI tears down about 300 houses a year. About 50 to 75 are condemned for being structurally comprised; the rest are neighborhood complaints.
The average cost last year to raze a house was $6,700. The BBI has $2.3 million for demolitions this year.
Often after a house is torn down the property becomes an overgrown lot in which is dumped appliances, junker cars, and more.
To a question about vacant, untended property on Flack St. for which the attendee has filed multiple complaints, Mr. Graziano said if the city took it for taxes, the city may maintain it.
If someone calls him, he will check on the property's status.
“We are trying to get compliance, and understand your frustration,” he said.
To a question about an abandoned, open house with crack smokers, he said if it is condemned, BBI will raze it.
Houses should be condemned if they are structurally comprised, he said. But most of the houses he gets are abandoned with squatters.
For a building to be a top priority for demolition, it must be structurally unsafe, he said, and not just ugly or a haven for drug addicts.
He then told the block watch coordinators to jot down the addresses of the 12 worst condemned houses in the neighborhood and email to: sharon.seng@city. pittsburgh.pa.us . She will enter the addresses into the system and send to the inspector.
“If you think it is condemned or condemnable, report it,” he said. “We will raze them.”
Property is liened for the cost of demolition. So, if that property is transferred to another person, the city still gets its money.
There is talk in Harrisburg of legislation to lien the owner's assets, which would be a great boost to code enforcement, he said. But it is merely a proposal at this time.
An initiative of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor was to have a city lawyer present at court hearings on housing to ensure that residents' interests are represented. That has been very helpful, he said, as fines are rising.
To a question about permits which people post so high they can't be read, say, because they have expired, Mr. Graziano said to contact John Jennings, assistant chief of construction, at 412-255-2176. He will check the permit's status.
To a complaint from block watch co-coordinator Debbie Neumeyer that water flows down from behind the vacant, former dialysis center on Arlington Ave. and onto Elsie St., freezing in winter, he called that a problem for the state Dept. of Environmental Protection and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.
In his talk about the role of district justices, Mr. Ricciardi said that, among his many duties, he handles traffic and non-traffic summary offenses.
The non-traffic includes underage drinking, disorderly conduct, etc.
“My approach is no-nonsense,” he said.
For example, two weeks ago a man with 28 citations for parking his construction vehicle on city streets after 7 p.m. offered the excuse of “Where else am I going to park these vehicles?”
Mr. Ricciardi found him guilty on all 28 counts, prompting the police officer to state, “It's about time,” as prior judges let him off easy.
He also handed down a sentence of 90 days in jail to a man found guilty of animal cruelty. That prompted the defense attorney to remark that jail time was unheard of for this offense.
As a judge, he protects the quality of life, said Mr. Ricciardi.
He also handles arrest and search warrants, officiates at marriage ceremonies, and conducts arraignments and preliminary hearings.
A district justice can dismiss a case, or hold it for court.
In the recent shootings of the Duquesne University basketball players, the case was broken through an arrest warrant he signed.
When the young woman who allegedly gave the order to shoot appeared before him, he gave her $1 million straight bond which, a week later, was reduced by another judge to $10,000. That meant she was released for $100.
“No one will ever be able to say that Gene Ricciardi caved,” he said.
He also informed attendees that they have the right to sue an individual up to $8,000 by filing a civil suit. An attorney is not required as he will help the plaintiff through the process.
“I am really enjoying this job,” he concluded. “Thanks for your support.”
Before adjourning, Mrs. Neumeyer reminded attendees of “scary movie night” on October 27 at 7 p.m. at St. Clair Athletic Association/Caliguiri Hall senior center, 2400 Spring St.
The event is for members only. The $2 admission includes free snacks. Members may bring guests. Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
The next block watch meeting will be on December 11.