Northeast Times

Cleaning up their acts

River Wards neigh­bors are among those on Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on’s “Prob­lem Prop­er­ties Ad­vis­ory Coun­cil,” which hos­ted a “Bad Neigh­bor Hear­ing” last Tues­day. The mes­sage for these land­lords? Shape up, or ship out.

(left to right) Land­lords Ed­win Bass, Dav­id Dai, Jean Paul Galle, and Dav­id Della Croce wit with Deputy Man­aging Dir­ect­or Tom Con­way (right), in front of a City Coun­cil hear­ing on bad land­lords at St. Bern­ard’s School Hall on Tues­day, Novem­ber 27, 2012. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

As part of City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on’s (D-6th dist.) “Bad Neigh­bor Ini­ti­at­ive,” four land­lords whose prop­er­ties are seen as de­tract­ing from the qual­ity of life in their re­spect­ive neigh­bor­hoods test­i­fied at a hear­ing last week.

Hen­on last month an­nounced the cre­ation of a “Prob­lem Prop­er­ties Ad­vis­ory Coun­cil” (PPAC) in the city’s 6th coun­cil­man­ic dis­trict. The 6th Dis­trict in­cludes Port Rich­mond and Brides­burg. River Wards neigh­bors ap­poin­ted to PPAC are Theresa Cos­tello and Dorothy Jac­ob of Port Rich­mond, and Harry En­gass­er and Joe Slab­in­ski of Brides­burg.

“What Coun­cil­man Hen­on is do­ing is fant­ast­ic,” said Slab­in­ski, pres­id­ent of the Brides­burg Busi­ness As­so­ci­ation, who at­ten­ded the hear­ing, at St. Bern­ard’s School Hall in Holmes­burg. “He’s grabbing these land­lords by the throat and say­ing, ‘Wake up, do something, or we’re go­ing to help you do something.’ That’s put­ting it in blunt-force terms, but I think it’s what they should do.”

Land­lords are clas­si­fied by Hen­on as “bad neigh­bors” if their prop­er­ties re­ceive three or more prop­erty main­ten­ance vi­ol­a­tions — many of which are is­sued by the Streets De­part­ment —with­in a year, are des­ig­nated as un­safe by the De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions, are the sub­jects of more than three com­plaints to Hen­on’s of­fice, are il­leg­ally ren­ted, or have been tax-de­lin­quent for two or more years.

Al­though four land­lords showed up, 10 were sub­poenaed. All the land­lords who test­i­fied lived out­side Phil­adelphia. The six land­lords who were sub­poenaed but did not ap­pear will face sum­monses to hear­ings with L&I.

“One guy had 150 prop­er­ties; he’s do­ing huge turnover,” Slab­in­ski said. “He can eas­ily pay people to keep up these prop­er­ties, but it’s all about the bot­tom line, isn’t it? These guys are mak­ing quick, fast money. They all live out­side the city. They think, ‘Who cares, I don’t live there.’”

Dav­id Della Croce owns about 100 prop­er­ties in Phil­adelphia and has a staff of two people to main­tain them. He’s re­ceived about 100 vi­ol­a­tions since 2007 from the city Streets De­part­ment re­lated to the con­di­tion of his prop­er­ties in Frank­ford and Tor­res­dale.

“It al­most seems like you don’t care,” Hen­on told Della Croce at one point.

“That’s not true. I care,” Della Croce said. “It’s my busi­ness; it’s what I do. I take care of my prop­er­ties.”

Della Croce does not have a prop­erty man­ager, which is re­quired for land­lords who do not live in prox­im­ity to their prop­er­ties. He said he was not aware of that re­quire­ment. He also said that vi­ol­a­tions for not bring­ing the trash out to the street are not his fault, be­cause his staff is un­able to vis­it every prop­erty in an eight-hour work­day.

“Trash does mat­ter, and the qual­ity of life in our neigh­bor­hoods de­creases the value of our homes,” Hen­on re­spon­ded.

Land­lord Jean Paul Gulle, who owns about 150 units in North­east Phil­adelphia and has a staff of 10 people, had re­ceived 104 vari­ous vi­ol­a­tions since 2007 from the Streets De­part­ment. He said he thought it was a “re­l­at­ively small” amount of vi­ol­a­tions, con­sid­er­ing the num­ber of prop­er­ties he owns.

“So, deal­ing with the city of Phil­adelphia, you just get tick­ets for vi­ol­a­tions, you just move on, that’s usu­al prac­tice in the in­dustry?” Hen­on asked.

Gulle re­spon­ded that he could work with his prop­erty man­ager to send more force­ful let­ters to the ten­ants who leave rent­al prop­er­ties in poor con­di­tions, lead­ing to vi­ol­a­tions. But he balked at the no­tion that he should “po­lice [his] own prop­er­ties.”

Qual­ity-of-life vi­ol­a­tions and their con­nec­tion to de­clin­ing prop­erty val­ues and grow­ing blight were the chief con­cerns of Hen­on and the oth­er City Coun­cil mem­bers lead­ing the hear­ing, in­clud­ing Curtis Jones (D-4th dist.), Maria Quinones-Sanc­hez (D-7th dist.), Kenyatta John­son (D-2nd dist.), Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.) and coun­cil­men-at-large Dav­id Oh and Wil­li­am Green­lee.

These City Coun­cil mem­bers, who to­geth­er make up the Joint Com­mit­tees on Li­censes and In­spec­tions and Pub­lic Safety, re­peatedly poin­ted out that it was less ex­pens­ive for these land­lords to pay fines than to pay for re­pairs or im­prove­ments on their prop­er­ties.

“It’s just sad to me that you don’t un­der­stand the pain these ten­ants go through every night,” Jones told the land­lords. “If you take any­thing away from to­night, it’s ‘Do un­to oth­er as you would have done un­to you,’” he said, to en­thu­si­ast­ic ap­plause from the audi­ence.

Res­id­ents testi­fy­ing at the meet­ing about the im­pact of these land­lords’ prop­er­ties in­cluded a May­fair wo­man, who said there is a ham­mer hole in her door from a break-in at­tempt by a neigh­bor try­ing to steal her med­ic­a­tion.

The com­mit­tee ac­know­ledged that ten­ants, not land­lords, are re­spons­ible for this be­ha­vi­or, but still urged land­lords to take more re­spons­ib­il­ity.

One res­id­ent at the hear­ing test­i­fied that a ten­ant on the 3000 block of Brighton St. in May­fair, which is owned by land­lord Dav­id Dai, act­ively en­gaged in pros­ti­tu­tion and has caused dis­rupt­ive be­ha­vi­or for years.

When Dai, who was sub­poenaed to ap­pear at the hear­ing, was asked if he knew about the prob­lem, he test­i­fied, “I’m not aware of that. I re­ceive the phone calls, call the ten­ant and say, ‘What’s go­ing on?’” Dai said the ten­ant tells him that noth­ing is go­ing on.

Dai said he vis­ited his prop­er­ties every two weeks. The com­plain­ing neigh­bor denied that, say­ing he had nev­er seen Dai vis­it the prop­er­ties.

The com­mit­tee ad­vised the land­lords to in­cor­por­ate stricter lan­guage re­gard­ing qual­ity-of-life vi­ol­a­tions in­to leases for ten­ants, and to con­sider pun­ish­ing their staff and prop­erty man­agers for al­low­ing vi­ol­a­tions to oc­cur.

“Call my of­fice,” Hen­on told the land­lords. “I want to help you so that you all can come in­to com­pli­ance with everything.

“And for those who snub their nose at the city of Phil­adelphia,” Hen­on con­tin­ued, “We’re go­ing to come after them.”

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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