Homes in Bridesburg among those owned by subpoenaed landlords

City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on aims for ac­count­ab­il­ity on the part of neg­li­gent land­lords— he's now brought two to a joint hear­ing about their prop­er­ties.

Phil­adelphia land­lords James Walsh (left) and Ray­mond Ho­ge­land at­tend a Li­censes and In­spec­tions and Pub­lic Safety Com­mit­tee hear­ing on bad land­lords ar­ranged by Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on, Wed­nes­day, June 20, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on cam­paigned on the is­sue of neg­li­gent land­lords and has spent much of his first six months in of­fice deal­ing with the is­sue.

Hen­on (D-6th dist.) ar­ranged for a joint hear­ing of the Coun­cil Com­mit­tees on Li­censes and In­spec­tions and Pub­lic Safety for last week and took the un­usu­al step of sub­poena­ing four prop­erty own­ers to par­ti­cip­ate in the hear­ing.

“Something is broken, and it needs to be fixed.” he said.

The four land­lords sub­poenaed own homes with vi­ol­a­tions in Brides­burg, Ta­cony, Wissi­nom­ing, May­fair, Frank­ford Val­ley, Holmes­burg and Castor Gar­dens. The vi­ol­a­tions are re­lated to high grass and weeds, trash, an­im­al drop­pings, stag­nant swim­ming pool wa­ter and vari­ous in­teri­or and ex­ter­i­or prob­lems.

“These prob­lems start out slow and then they grow,” Hen­on said.

James Walsh and Ray­mond Ho­ge­land ap­peared at the June 20 hear­ing on “neg­li­gent land­lords, prob­lem rent­al prop­er­ties and their ef­fects on the sur­round­ing com­munity.”

Walsh, who’s been in the busi­ness for al­most 30 years, owns al­most 500 prop­er­ties in Phil­adelphia, in­clud­ing 33 in the 6th Dis­trict. He ac­know­ledged be­ing be­hind on taxes on as many as 20 prop­er­ties.

In ad­di­tion, Walsh has paid some fines for Com­munity Life Im­prove­ment Pro­gram-is­sued vi­ol­a­tions, but he said he takes oth­er no­tices to Mu­ni­cip­al Court and they are routinely dis­missed for be­ing un­war­ran­ted.

Ho­ge­land, a May­fair res­id­ent who has been in the busi­ness for about three dec­ades, said he and part­ners op­er­ate about 300 homes, in­clud­ing 28 in the 6th Coun­cil­man­ic Dis­trict.

He sug­ges­ted that the city hire a li­ais­on for in­di­vidu­als who have large num­bers of prop­er­ties.

Most of his prop­er­ties are li­censed, he said, and only one owes back taxes, and he’s in ne­go­ti­ations with the city. About 90 per­cent of his prop­er­ties are in com­pli­ance, with the rest await­ing re-in­spec­tion.

Last year, he spent $186,000 to pay main­ten­ance crews. He re­cently hired someone to handle all L&I is­sues, adding that they are usu­ally rec­ti­fied with­in three days.

Hen­on cited stat­ist­ics show­ing that the av­er­age price of a house in the 6th Dis­trict sold from 2009-11 was $86,671 if it was with­in 184 feet of a bad land­lord and $109,865 if it was farther away. 

Ho­ge­land doesn’t be­lieve neg­li­gent rent­al prop­er­ties are the sole cause of de­clines in prop­erty val­ues. He poin­ted to fore­clos­ures and the over­all “eco­nom­ic mal­aise.” He ac­know­ledged that some ten­ants have le­git­im­ate gripes about their prop­er­ties, but con­tends that some of the renters are at fault.

“The ten­ants’ be­ha­vi­or is nev­er dis­cussed,” he said.

Hen­on asked Ho­ge­land if pay­ing fines is the cost of do­ing busi­ness as a land­lord.

“I don’t want that cost,” Ho­ge­land replied. “To me, it’s ag­grav­a­tion.”

Hen­on has wel­comed pub­lic com­ment about the is­sue through Face­book, tele­phone calls, his web­site and his City­Hall App.

People were not shy.

“All it takes is a couple of houses like this per block in a neigh­bor­hood like May­fair and, be­fore long, the neigh­bor­hood will look like North Philly,” one per­son wrote on Face­book.

“This prop­erty has over­grown grass 2 feet high. I have lived here for 34 years and nev­er has this prop­erty looked like this,” a wo­man from the 2200 block of Tyson Ave. wrote on the web­site.

Hen­on said that the prob­lems are real, des­pite some of the testi­mony from Walsh and Ho­ge­land.

There are 137 prop­er­ties in the 6th Dis­trict that are be­ing ren­ted without a val­id li­cense. Sixty-eight of them have mul­tiple main­ten­ance vi­ol­a­tions and are sus­pec­ted of be­ing tax de­lin­quent.

More than $11 mil­lion in prop­erty taxes and fees are owed to the city by own­ers of res­id­en­tial prop­er­ties in the 6th dis­trict.

Tom Con­way, a deputy man­aging dir­ect­or and head of CLIP, said own­ers are giv­en two weeks to rem­edy an ex­ter­i­or prob­lem be­fore his crews will clean it and bill the own­er.

“Our goal is com­pli­ance of the vi­ol­a­tion,” he said.

Stan Cy­w­in­ski, pres­id­ent of the Up­per Holmes­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation, com­plained about an own­er us­ing mere sheet rock to build party walls on a multi-story com­mer­cial prop­erty where the up­per floors were con­ver­ted in­to “apart­ments.”

Cy­w­in­ski said his group hasn’t had much luck over­all deal­ing with prob­lems land­lords.

“We tend to get a lot of lip ser­vice,” he said.

Alex Bal­loon, com­mer­cial cor­ridor man­ager of the Ta­cony Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion, spoke of a rent­al prop­erty on the 6800 block of Tor­res­dale Ave. A fire there in Janu­ary killed a wo­man, two teen­agers and two dogs.

Today, the prop­erty is boarded up and an eye­sore, and in Bal­loon’s opin­ion chas­ing away cus­tom­ers and busi­nesses. He agreed with Cy­w­in­ski that many land­lords are the prob­lem.

“They’re very dif­fi­cult to reach,” he said.

Writ­ten testi­mony was sub­mit­ted by, among oth­ers, state Reps. John Taylor, Mike McGee­han and Kev­in Boyle; state Sen. Mike Stack; May­fair Civic As­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent Joe De­Fe­lice; Joseph Cas­cer­ceri, pres­id­ent of the Prin­ceton Av­en­ue De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion; and Wil­li­am Dun­bar, Taylor’s op­pon­ent. Taylor and Boyle also sent aides to the hear­ing.

Coun­cil mem­bers Maria Quiñones-Sanc­hez, Curtis Jones, Dav­id Oh, Jan­nie Black­well and Kenyatta John­son were present for much of the hear­ing.

“I have Coun­cil’s full sup­port in mov­ing for­ward,” Hen­on said.

The hear­ing was re­cessed after about three and a half hours of testi­mony. Hen­on an­ti­cip­ates even­tu­al ac­tion on le­gis­la­tion he’s in­tro­duced about prob­lem prop­er­ties and their own­ers.

“I look for­ward to con­tinu­ing the con­ver­sa­tion,” he said.

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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