Landlords under fire
— Fed up with rotten tenants and their landlords? So is City Council, which is tackling the issue.
For the second time, City Councilman Bobby Henon summoned landlords who have had multiple violations on their properties to a public hearing and put them on the hot seat. This time, four of the 10 he subpoenaed showed up to answer questions from City Council members and residents about how they manage their properties
Holmesburg resident Bob Flade was one of the residents who let the landlords have it, in plain language.
“Half of them don’t give a s--- about the property,” he said.
Henon and his fellow Council members have been on a campaign to stop the quality-of-life violations — trash, high grass, noise complaints — associated with these properties, many of them in Northeast Philadelphia. One of the reasons, they say, is that such problems devalue all the properties in a neighborhood, decreasing sale prices by 20 percent.
Flade, testifying at the hearing, puts much of the blame on landlords.
“All they’re worried about is making a buck,” he said.
Flade believes Section 8 housing has crippled one neighborhood and threatens the viability of others.
“Frankford’s done,” he said, adding that he hopes Wissinoming, Tacony, Mayfair, Holmesburg and Torresdale don’t meet the same fate.
Henon (D-6th dist.) arranged the two-hour joint hearing of the Licenses and Inspections and Public Safety committees for Nov. 27 in the St. Bernard Parish gym at 4427 Aldine St.
“We mean business. The status quo is no longer acceptable,” Henon said at the start of the hearing.
As part of his overall “Bad Neighbor Initiative,” he subpoenaed the 10 landlords to attend. As for the six who did not attend, Henon will ask Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, chairwoman of the Licenses and Inspections Committee, and Councilman Curtis Jones, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, to take them to court. A judge would likely, at the very least, order them to appear in front of Council.
The previous Council hearing took place in June.
Members of Henon’s Problem Properties Advisory Council were in attendance last week. He wants to tackle problem properties house by house, block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood.
In general, the councilman is going after landlords whose properties have a history of maintenance violations, are tax delinquent or don’t have active housing inspection licenses.
Joining Henon at the hearing table were Quinones-Sanchez, Jones and Councilmen Bill Greenlee, David Oh, Kenyatta Johnson and Mark Squilla.
During the session, a slide show pictured problem properties in the 6th Councilmanic District neighborhoods of Port Richmond, Bridesburg, Wissinoming, Tacony, Mayfair and Holmesburg.
Among the onlookers were City Controller Alan Butkovitz; commissioners Carlton Williams and Bridget Greenwald of the departments of Licenses and Inspections and Public Property, respectively; and representatives of the Police Department, District Attorney’s Office and Department of Streets.
The four landlords who appeared were David Della Croce, Jean Paul Gulle, David Dai and Edwin Bass. None of the four live in Philadelphia.
“Their houses are probably pristine,” said Bill Gillen, a 16-year resident of the 4300 block of Loring St., which he said includes a number of rental properties.
Della Croce, an investor since 1995, has 58 units, mostly rowhomes. Three-quarters of them are in Mayfair. The rest are in Frankford. He and another individual manage the properties weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In response to a question, he said he’d have no problem living next to one of his properties.
“I do care,” he said.
When Henon noted the high number of violations for placing trash out early, Della Croce promised to push his tenants to abide by the law. He also indicated that he and his fellow manager would place trash curbside at the appropriate hour for the multi-unit properties they handle.
Residents can place trash outside at 7 p.m. the night before collection. At present, a pilot program allows residents of the 1st, 6th and 10th councilmanic districts to put trash out at 5 p.m.
“I’m just not feeling your sincerity,” Henon said after Della Croce acknowledged not knowing those time limits.
Dai, a dentist, has 20 properties and said he screens his tenants “very carefully.” Still, tenants in one house on the 3000 block of Brighton St. have irked neighbors with suspected drug sales, cockroaches, loud music, other noises and late-night activity. The tenants, as many as 13 of them in the same house, have moved out.
Gulle owns about 150 properties and works with a management company of 10 people. He insisted that he screens his tenants carefully and warns them that they will pay for any violations.
“It’s clear as day in the lease,” said Gulle, adding that he’ll issue a more strongly worded letter after a violation.
Other complaints came from residents of the 3500 block of Shelmire Ave., the 4200 block of Longshore Ave. and the 6600 block of Tulip St., along with Joe Cascerceri, president of the Princeton Avenue Development Corporation.
Tom Conway, a deputy city managing director who heads the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), explained that he receives calls of complaints from Council offices and the city’s 311 non-emergency system. An inspector will issue warnings for high grass and trash problems. If there is no response, the city will clean the exterior of a property and bill the owner.
Grass must be at least 10 inches high before a warning is issued.
“That’s close to a foot of high grass,” Conway noted.
Henon is certain he is making progress with his focus on problem properties. The hearing was recessed, not adjourned. Another hearing will probably take place in the spring.
Meanwhile, the councilman is considering legislation on the matter.
“We will change behavior,” he said. “Enough is absolutely enough.”
Anyone who wants to report a problem property can call Henon’s office at 215-686-3444. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or email@example.com