South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Rental registration program explained in Arlington


February 19, 2008

Kim Graziani, the director of neighborhood initiatives for the Office of the Mayor, was the featured speaker at the 16th Ward Block Watch meeting in Arlington on Feb. 11.

One of her responsibilities is overseeing the Weed and Seed program, under which bad elements are "weeded" out of neighborhoods and money is "seeded" for economic development.

Officials hope to hear by August if a five-year South Pittsburgh proposal will receive federal funding.

"We're holding our breath," she said.

A pending initiative is rental legislative in which all landlords must register properties. Currently, if the Bureau of Building Inspection tries to cite a property the owner often can't be located.

"It's a good start to have a database going," said Ms. Graziani. Registration is valid for one year.

To an attendee's comment that he thought landlords were already required to register properties, Mr. Graziani said the deed should contain the correct name and address. However, landlords move, or have subsidiaries, and so on.

City Councilman Bruce A. Kraus said BBI is under his jurisdiction. It will be a big challenge, he said, to get all landlords to register. But it will be a good tool in combating problem tenants.

"The key is to know where everyone is so we can hold them liable," he said.

A companion piece of legislation, said Ms. Graziani, is the nuisance property legislation. It holds landlords responsible for the cost of sending police officers, building inspectors, and more to problem properties.

After three violations within 60 days, the property becomes a nuisance property. The owner then has to pay back the city on all costs incurred, such as police calls to the site, unless action is taken to evict the tenant.

Continued infractions would move the matter to the district attorney's office.

"It's telling landlords we take this seriously," said Ms. Graziani.

Forty-eight to 60 city properties currently have three violations.

To a question of what if the landlord can't be located, she said that is why it is a companion piece to the rental legislation.

Another hot-button issue in the Hilltop area is condemned structures. Mr. Kraus said that $2.2 million was earmarked recently for the demolition of condemned structures.

Starting in April, the removal of these buildings will begin. The first phase will involve 59 houses in Hazelwood.

But the second phase will be in the Allentown/Beltzhoover area as it is a public safety issue.

"We will do surgical strikes to take out individual houses," he said.

One of the houses scheduled for demolition is located beside the home of a meeting attendee. She said the house has been condemned for 29 years.

He asked the block watch to get him the addresses of their priorities for the top five condemned — or deserving of being condemned — properties to tear down.

After a structure on city-owned property is removed, the abandoned lot can be purchased by an adjoining property owner for a dollar. The "side lot program" has been in effect for 10 years, said Mr. Kraus. The new owner cannot build on the property.

Block watch President Debbie Neumeyer and Vice-President Mary Lavelle said they asked a city finance official about taking ownership of the grass portion of an empty city-owned lot adjacent to the St. Clair Athletic Association. They wanted to pave and expand the current parking lot.

They were told it would cost $750 and the purchase of title insurance. Mr. Kraus said he would look into it.

To a complaint about four or more unrelated people living in a single-family dwelling, which is prohibited under zoning laws, Mr. Kraus said the city is aware of the problem.

Local housing is becoming desirable to college students. Their parents are buying the low-cost homes and allowing their children to live in while attending college. The problem is that five or six students, each with a car using street parking, live in the home which has only one name on the mortgage.

The city is having difficulties getting universities to tell them where students are living.

A technological update planned for BBI, said Mr. Kraus, is hand-held computers for inspectors to issue citations on site.

To a question of who to report violations to, Ms. Graziani said 311, the city's phone number for government information and non-emergency services. It is also called the "Ravenstahl Response Line."

Callers receive a reference number so they can call back for a follow-up report.

"Departments have to respond to all 311 requests in a timely manner," she said.

Mr. Kraus said that after calling 311 and receiving a reference number the caller should contact his office with the complaint and reference number. His office will follow up on the call, including letting the caller know the resolution.

While the 311 line is closed on weekends, it can be contacted via email around-the-clock.

To a question about the state-owned Birmingham Bridge, which will reportedly be closed for at least two weeks, Mr. Kraus said he asked officials two things. First, if the response time for public safety vehicles is in danger, to which he was told it was not. Second, that any additional costs to the city be reimbursed.

The next block watch meeting will be on April 14. Mayor Ravenstahl and a zoning representative will be invited to speak.


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