South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Jennifer Szweda Jordan
Contributing Writer 

Judge explains why he can't send code violator to jail

 


The Berg Place apartment building owner charged with dozens of code violations at the now vacant property--including a raw sewage pit outside -- can’t be sent to jail, Magisterial District Judge Richard King says.

Mr. King says it’s a complicated case because Mr. Gartley’s violations were cited by various agencies, including the Allegheny County Health Department and the City of Pittsburgh.

“Any of those violations, any property maintenance code violations, you can’t go to jail for,” Judge King said. “There’s a mechanism to cite someone criminally, that’s a state law, but no one in Pittsburgh has used it and it hasn’t been used much in the state. They changed that law about seven years ago, but no-one, everyone seems to be afraid to go forward with it. I don’t know why, I don’t know if they’re worried later on about seeing that the law was incorrect.”

Mr. King spoke at the monthly Carrick-Overbrook Block Watch meeting on Oct. 6. Block Watch coordinator Carol Anthony invited him after residents expressed discontent at the last meeting over the handling of the case of Davin Gartley.

Mr. King says, while Mr. Gartley’s case has been getting a lot of attention, “the bigger problem is not so much the Gartleys of the world.”

He says the more frequent problems with rental properties is that owners cannot be found for many of the community’s vacant sites, or properties are often inherited by people who are elderly or otherwise unable to care for them. 

“Everybody walks into my courtroom, one of the first things they say is, ‘I’ll give it to the city.’ The city doesn’t want it,” Mr. King says. “It sounds like a simple process but you can’t just give property away.”

Judge King also says many of the community’s rental properties are owned by “mom and pop” landlords — those who only own one or more properties and are not necessarily familiar with landlord-tenant law. He says these landlords often ask for legal advice from him and his staff.

One resident at the meeting told Mr. King he believes the judge always sides with landlords instead of tenants in disputes.

“I can’t pick sides,” Judge King says. “I’m there to be detached and neutral.”

Mr. King spoke about a number of other property issues he’s learned about from law enforcement or fire officers, including that hoarding is growing in the area. He says occasionally when officers respond to calls, it’s hard to reach the victims due to the amount of personal belongings blocking the way inside houses or on porches.

Dan Barrett, of Natalia Rudiak’s office, says they’re also working on the Gartley case.

“We know it’s going to be a target,” he says. “We did have city Public Works construction go over there....boarded up the entire place.”

Mr. Barrett adds, “We do have some leads for things that we think might actually work there,” though he says he has nothing to announce yet.

Meanwhile, he encouraged people to call the police if they see people who shouldn’t be on the property.

A staff member for State Rep. Erin Molchany attended the meeting and says they will close their office on Nov. 14 since Ms. Molchany’s term is ending.

Block Watch Coordinator Carol Anthony says she continues attempts to get representatives from State Rep. Harry Readshaw’s office to attend the meeting. Mr. Readshaw, who beat Ms. Molchany in the race for the office, has not attended the meeting or sent a representative for at least six months.

Police Officer Christine Luffey also gave her regular report at the meeting.

On Sept. 17, two refugee women were stopped, and one’s wallet was stolen by a group of pre-teens in the Carrick Shopping Center.

On Sept. 22, an 18-year-old male was shot on Walton Ave.

On Sept. 30, two people were arrested after a woman in her mid-20s who was pushing a toddler in a stroller was beaten and struck with heavy rocks.

Officer Luffey says after going to court for a case in which two adolescent boys severely beat a kitten, she continues to wonder about “the million dollar question: how do we teach empathy” to young people.

Carrick High School representatives attended the meeting, including the new principal Angel Washington. She says the school has many new people on staff. The school, which just celebrated its 90th anniversary, is offering adult education classes in Microsoft 2013, and resume writing, and will expand its offerings to open its jewelry-making shop and carpentry to adults as well.

Ms. Washington says while the school doesn’t look good on paper now in terms of graduation rates or retention, that the current students show a lot of promise.

A citywide Public Safety meeting will take place Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. at the American Legion Langley Post 496, 2863 Chartiers Ave., Sheraden.

 

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