By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Philadelphia officials say 2014 will bring a crackdown on a very specific type of slumlord: those who own retail properties that have vacant, boarded up apartments above the store.
The Department of Licenses and Inspections is putting out the word now in advance of active enforcement in 2014: owners of buildings with stores on the first floor cannot leave vacant apartments above the stores boarded up. They must install working windows and doors on those upper floors.
L&I spokeswoman Rebecca Swanson says this very particular form of blight is widespread.
“We are hearing that there are hundreds, maybe thousands throughout the city. And we’ve been working with community organizations and groups to identify some real problem properties,” she said. “We’ve seen them everywhere — from Center City to South Philadelphia, to the Northwest and Northeast. There are many commercial corridors that have these.”
L&I is working with community groups to identify such buildings and then will warn the owners that they must install working doors and windows. Early next year, she says, comes the hammer.
“The owners of the properties (that have not complied) will be cited. They’ll be told that they’re facing a fine of up to $300 a day per opening, to be imposed by the courts,” she said. “If they do not correct the violations after two inspections by L&I, they will be sent to court.”
This crackdown stems from a City Council vote this past spring in which an existing vacant property law was expanded to include properties that have vacant residential units above occupied retail sites.
Swanson says forcing these improvements makes a difference.
“Having the doors and windows put in increases the property values, it gets more people onto the street, people are moving in, and particularly for commercial corridors — it’s going to bring people back to the corridors, it’s going to increase retail. It’s really going to strengthen these corridors which would then spread out into the neighborhoods.”
And Swanson says the public can help identify the problem properties.
“These are harder properties for us to identify, so if people ones in their neighborhood, please call 311 and report it.”