Alan Butkovitz on L&I: “No Excuse for Putting Lives at Risk”

Controller released a report critical of the department's handling of vacant buildings. Mayor's office calls agency "very proactive."

Photo Credit: Curtis Blessing

Photo Credit: Curtis Blessing

City Controller Alan Butkovitz has released another report critical of Philadelphia’s Licenses & Inspections department.

The review, “Vacant Properties Creating Neighborhood Nuisances,” (below) says L&I is failing to hold the owners of vacant, dangerous buildings accountable and keeping inaccurate, outdated records.

“There is no excuse for putting lives at risk due to deteriorating and collapsing buildings,” said Butkovitz today at a press conference announcing his findings. “The city cannot wait until another tragic incident happens to stimulate action.”

The Controller’s office found that:

  •  The city government granted vacant-property licenses to 5,700 privately owned properties in Philadelphia in the last two years. Nearly 800 of those properties — 14 percent — had open violations or did not comply with city law. The violations were issued for everything from high weeds to collapsing structures.
  • Those roughly 800 properties were responsible for a whopping 2,283 violations. One property alone had 20 open violations.
  • More than 100 of the licensed properties were deemed “unsafe, imminently dangerous or hazardous.”
  • When the Controller’s office examined the licensed properties in person, they found that some had been demolished or renovated, but L&I’s records failed to note this.

Currently, it costs $150 a year to obtain a vacant-property license in the city. Butkovitz says Philadelphia should consider increasing the fee if a property owner has an open violation. For instance, he said, Chicago raises that fee by $250 every year that a property owner is not in compliance, for a maximum cost of $1,000.

In order to identify and demolish the most dangerous properties throughout Philadelphia, Butkovitz says L&I needs to maintain records in real time and hire 80 to 100 additional inspectors.

Butkovitz says L&I, to its credit, did take action in response to his report by beginning the demolition process for some of the dangerous properties he highlighted.

“We encourage L&I to continue to utilize our findings as a guide,” says Butkovitz. “My office will keep identifying dangerous properties and monitor L&I’s actions. In other words, we are not going away just because of this initial sign of progress.”

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Mayor Nutter, says the administration just received the report and does not have an immediate response to it.

However, he says, “L&I has been very proactive in dealing with imminently dangerous properties.” According to McDonald, the city has reduced the number of imminently dangerous buildings in Philadelphia from about 630 to 300 in the past two-and-a-half years, and increased the number of properties cleaned and sealed from roughly 1,500 to 1,950 in the same period.

Following the deadly building collapse in Center City on June 5, 2013, Butkovitz issued a scathing report about L&I’s oversight of demolitions.

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