Insightful piece about Scranton’s rampant abuse of property owners through warrantless fines and condemnation. It was written by NYU Journalist Grad Student Jane Yi Zhang.
Patricia Fowler was a Scranton, PA housing inspector for the city’s Department of Licensing, Inspections and Permits. Her job was to issue citations and condemnations to homes that violated local building codes, and was, by all accounts, exceedingly productive. Over a 10-year period, from 2005 to 2016, she condemned more than 250 homes, compared to some co-workers who averaged two homes per year.
If the number of condemnations and citations issued to homeowners were the criteria to assess a housing inspector’s performance, Fowler would have been the most qualified employee in the city. But it is not. As homeowners appealed, the court had overturned many of her citations because the alleged violations were not warranted. As a result of her aggressive approach, she and the city she served are facing three lawsuits from outraged property owners.
“The city is condemning too many properties,” said Wayne Evans, a Scranton city councilman and a realtor. “When you condemn a property, it’s like giving the building a death sentence.”
As a mean of fighting urban blight — a serious concern in a city that has seen better days — Scranton adopted in the past 10 years an aggressive approach to condemn and cite homes that have fallen into disrepair. This a long-standing financially distressed city has a housing capacity largely built before 1940 when the city had double of today’s population. The city has been on the path of losing its jobs and residents since the 1950s when the coal-mining industry gradually waned.
But this condemn-first-and-ask-questions-later approach has led to unintended consequences. Some are suing the city. Others have appealed their citations — often successfully. Others have given up and left town because of this. The outcome of combating blight generates more blight.
Fowler was also a product of these unintended consequences. She went on a ticketing spree, condemning and citing hundreds of properties. In one case she condemned a property for not being kept at a constant temperature in August. Another time she condemned a building because a gutter had fallen into the front yard.
“She condemned my property for one falling gutter?” said Aryabind Bipat, a former Scranton homeowner. “I couldn’t understand it.”
Bipat, 65, who now lives in New York City, used to own a two-unit property 723–725 W. Elm St. in Scranton. He bought it in 2009 as an investment, hoping he could profit from collecting rents. But it didn’t go well. Tired of dealing with tenants, Bipat emptied the house. He mulled either selling it or looking for an alternative way to manage the property. The city made the decision for him.
Rest of the article here: