Quicker resolution to BBI cases seen as result of new court procedures
March 4, 2008
District Judge Richard King said he expects to handle between 1,500 and 2,000 Bureau of Building Inspection citations this year.
He made the comment as a guest speaker at the Allentown Community Development Corporation meeting Feb. 28.
More work is being done this year because the cases involving the city BBI are no longer being handled downtown in Pittsburgh Police Magistrates Court and instead are sent to local district magisterial judges like Mr. King.
This means that the BBI inspectors are no longer required to wait hours for their citations to be discussed. Mr. King schedules the hearing at 10:30 a.m. Thursdays and disposes of them quickly and "solves problems."
In cases involving unsightly property and overgrown weeds or grass, "I say ‘the past is the past.' I ask ‘What is your plan to remedy the problem?'"
He is upset when he learns a property owner only cuts their grass after receiving a citation. "It is unacceptable to only do something when forced to."
"In some ways I think the new system has reinvigorated the inspectors," Mr. King said. "We turn the cases over so quickly now that they have time to do more filing. The inspectors enjoy seeing progress."
He recommended residents drop in at his office prior to the start of the hearings if they want to discuss individual cases with the inspectors.
City Councilman Bruce A. Kraus is chair of the City Council Public Safety Committee which also oversees BBI. He described BBI to the ACDC as "one of the more problematic departments." He hopes "to get it automated so it can enter the 21st Century." There are some technical problems causing delays but it should happen this year "and make a huge difference."
He also announced the city will spend $4 million on demolition of unsightly homes this year and the Allentown/Knoxville area will see it happen in the late summer and early fall.
ACDC board president Judy Hackel plans to schedule a speaker to talk about the impending demolition.
Mr. Kraus asked residents making complaints to the mayor's 311 hotline to also contact his office at 412-255-2130 so he can be notified of the problems. "So I can make sure your call is not being lost."
He also wants his office to be called about concerns that the police force is not providing proper coverage for Zone 3 after the shift of police officers to the West End station.
"Keep me posted. You have to be my eyes and ears out there," Mr. Kraus said.
Mr. King said one problem that concerns him is when banks fail to take over delinquent property. Bank employees change the locks but choose not to record the deed so they don't have to take responsibility for the property's upkeep; the property's ownership and the responsibility for upkeep remains with the delinquent owner.
"I don't think banks should be allowed to get away with it. The problem needs to be fixed. I don't know how long it will take."
He said city officials in the past resisted having citations heard on a local level but Mayors Bob O'Connor and Luke Ravenstahl favored the practice, which started in January.
"I'm not there to be on the inspector's side. I'm not on anyone's side. I tell landlords things like ‘I would not choose to live next door to something like what I see in the photograph just shown to me."