South Watch: The South Side Flats and Slopes Code Enforcement Project

Meeting Minutes

October 11, 2017

Mission: South Watch: The South Side Flats and Slopes Code Enforcement Project works to improve the quality of life on the South Side by bringing people and institutions together to identify code violations, advocate for their remediation and monitor the outcomes.  (This is also the mission of Oakwatch.)

  1. Introductions
  2. Barbara Rudiak shared the mission of South Watch. Because new residents were in attendance, she explained how and why South Watch was formed. At previous community meetings, there often was heated discussion about topics but there was no plan in place for follow-through.  As a result of observing a community process in Oakland (Oakwatch), a committee formed and they worked for a year planning the monthly meetings and called them South Watch.  These meetings are organized with agendas, time limits and norms. City, university and state officials attend so answers to community issues can be discussed and resolved.  These meetings should not be first place to come with a problem but, if it is persists, the meetings may be a good place to talk about possible solutions.  Attendees introduced themselves.
  3. Attendees:
Barbara Rudiak South Watch, SS Community Council
Shawn Wigle Dept. of Public Works
Betty Kripp South Watch
Ernest Rajakone Mayor’s Office
Kitty Vagley Resident
Jeff Neubauer Resident
Teri Fazio Sen. Jay Costa’s office
Liz Style South Watch
Tim Lewis Duquesne University
Bruce Kraus Pgh City Council President
Officer Nathan Auvril Pgh Police, Zone 3
Commander Karen Dixon Pgh Police, Zone 3
Gloria Szala Resident
Thomas E. Nowicki Resident
Mary Lou Bauck Resident
Kathy Mihalek Resident
Julie Reiland Permits, Licenses and Inspections
Mary Konieczny Resident
Vera and Albert Donnenberg Residents
Kitty Hitz Resident
Cindy Funtal Resident
Perian Reid South Watch
Bridget Vyas South Watch
John Fournier Pittsburgh Parking Authority
Bruce Kraus City Council

 

  1. Presentation: Intro to Code Enforcement in the Office of Permits, Licenses and Inspections (PLI)
  2. Julie Reiland, Government and Public Relations Liaison, PLI
  3. Julie walked attendees through the process of what happens after a 311 service request is initiated. She explained that code enforcement is a legal process and that certain standards need to be followed.   She directed them to the first page of the handout that she provided.  It outlined the types of issues that PLI handles and does not handle.
  4. The next page showed a diagram of the 311 process and what happens if the request is sent to PLI. The department has 17 operation inspectors who are in the field with computers.  This provides them with an opportunity to inspect the property within 5 days of the service request and if a violation is found, it is logged into the computer.  The PLI office generates a notice to the property owner.  The compliance period can be from between 5 and 30 days depending on the violation, for example, 5 days for fire violations; 15 days for weeds; 30 days for roofs.  After this time period, if there is still a violation, the same process occurs, i.e. a notice with a compliance period.  After the 3rd violation, if the problem has not been abated, the inspector files court documents and they are sent to the local magistrate.  Part of that documentation that PLI must provide is evidence that the property owners received the notices.   At a future meeting, Judge Gene Ricciardi will speak to what occurs once the documents reach his office.   If the violation involves a vacant lot, the paper work will be issued to allow Public Works to enter the private property to do the necessary work, i.e. cut grass, board up windows, remove garbage.  This is called clean and lien and the cost becomes a lien on the property.  In total, this process can take between 60 – 90 days to remediate.
  • Most properties are on the condemned list long before demolition, with the hope that the properties can be saved. The city will only demolish quickly if the property poses imminent danger.
  1. Julie explained that the following 4 pages listed the common standard code violations and stated that PLI follows the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) that are used all over the country. Also listed were several codes that were voted on by city council, i.e. no outdoor storage of indoor furniture because it is considered a fire hazard.  She also stated that when there are zoning code issues, they are sent over to PLI to enforce.
  2. Liz asked about code 305.1 that deals with the interior of the house. Julie stated that inspectors need to be invited into private property and, in cases like this, it may be the tenant who allows the inspector inside.  She stressed that inspectors cannot go into a back yard or peek over a neighbor’s fence.  She suggested that 311 service requests be filed with a phone number because, if there is a problem in the back of the house,  the PLI officer can be view the violation from the 311 originator’s yard.
  3. Julie had mentioned that not having house numbers was a violation. Barbara shared that, at a Zone 3 public safety meeting, attendees were told that houses did not need numbers.  Julie stated that they did and one reason was so that EMS would know which house to visit when there was an emergency.
  • Julie also indicated that there are times when the Allegheny Count Health Department will get involved – pest extermination, mold, standing water and mosquitoes.
  • In the packet was an example of the notice that PLI sends out once there is a violation. It lists the property in violation, the violation and what corrective action is needed.  At the bottom of the page there is information about right to appeal and that there may be penalties and fees associated with the violation.  There is a different notice for each of the violations – initial, second and final.  Barbara asked to whom the notices are sent.  Julie stated that the notices go to the property owner whose name/address is listed on the Allegheny County Assessment website.  These addresses are not always accurate which means that the inspectors need to use alternative means – google, court records, share with the tenant – to find the property owner.  She stated that it can be hard to find the property owners once their information is not accurate.  If PLI has a bad address, there cannot be a court hearing because it is assumed that the property owner did not receive proper notice (due process).
  1. Julie provided some additional information related to contacting the city through a 311 service request. She asked that the information be as specific as possible.  The inspectors need to see the violation in order to cite it and send notification to the property owner.  Although the initiator of the call will remain anonymous, it is important to include your phone number in case the inspector needs more information or needs to gain access to your property in order to see the violation.  You can also leave information that states that the inspector is invited on your property to see the violation even if you are not at home.  She stressed that it might takes months to remedy the violation because of the process and because the judge may dismiss the case.  It will continue, however, to stay open with PLI if the violation is not abated.  Julie stated that the person who initiates the 311 call can receive updates to their service request by opening up an account with 311 and providing an email address.  You can receive a text message or automated call.  She shared that property violations can also be tracked via PLI’s website – pittsburghpa.buildingeye.com/enforcement without an account.  In addition to being able to see the violation/compliance process for properties, you can also sign up for alerts for a specific area.  Julie stated that 311 service requests are confidential.  She was asked about property owners not accepting certified letters from the city because they first received a regular notice and know what the certified letter is for.  Julie stated that this information is shared with the judge so he can see proof of their efforts to reach the property owner.
  2. Another page of her packet contained PLI’s resource guide. Listed were their website and the building eye link.  There was also a site that provided demolition information and FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions.  They are on social media – Facebook, NextDoor and Twitter.  There is also a monthly newsletter, monthly forums and YouTube videos of monthly forum sessions.  Another page provided additional information about common PLI issues – property owner being deceased; condemned buildings; bad addresses; property disputes; and abandoned vehicles on private property.
  3. Barbara asked if large “for rent” signs that hang from houses that are already rented are permitted. Julie stated that the signs are to come down 30 days after the property has been rented but this can be hard to verify.  She suggested that we let her know of addresses that are of concern.  She was also asked about an air conditioner that hangs out on to the sidewalk on Carson Street and is dripping on pedestrians.  She said that she wasn’t sure if that was a violation and asked that the information be shared with her so that she could check on it.

II.South Side Property Progress Report

  1. Barbara Rudiak
  2. Barbara shared with the new attendees that the property progress report lists properties that have repeated code violations. She indicated that there were only a few properties in the Hollow on the list. She stated that focus of our report was refuse regulation compliance.  For several years, the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association had monitored refuse regulations on the slopes and worked closely with Environmental Services.  As we surveyed the Flats, we saw the need to educate residents of the regulations.  Currently, when we see violations that are persistent, we notify the residents with an orange placard.  We will repeat this twice and if the problem is not remedied, a 311 service request will be completed using the

South Watch account.  We also share this information with Environmental Services.  We are currently working on revising the property progress report.

  1. Bridget Vyas
  2. Bridget explained the changes in the report. She looked at the 311 trash reports and clustered them into what she called hot spots, i.e. Pius, Eleanor, Larkins Way. These were mapped and then were used when Betty and Barbara met with Bill, Shawn and two of the foremen, Lee and Wade, on their walk to view the violations together.  In another column, she listed the actions that were taken by the South Watch committee and Environmental Services.  These ranged from talking with tenants, hanging notices on doors, sending warning letters, issuing citations and arrest warrants.  Betty added that there were 43 properties that were not on this report that had been remedied.
  3. Betty Kripp
  4. Betty shared information about the walk that she and Barbara took through sections of the Slopes with Shawn, Bill, Lee and Wade. She commented that Lee and Wade knew their areas and could speak to the previous actions they had taken with the properties listed on the hot spot map.  She and Barbara had an opportunity to see them engage with several tenants about the trash violations.  One student expressed concern about a ripped trash bag indicating that he put the bag in the trash.  He also shared that they had rats.  The Environmental Services staff explained that the rats were able to access the trash bag because the trash cans had no lids or there were not enough cans for the bags.  They also educated the student about recycling and told him that they would provide him with a recycling bin.  The student thought that they needed to pay to have their recycling picked up.  Betty shared that the walk was helpful to the South Watch committee so that we could become more efficient in what we report and how we report it.
  5. Shawn Wigle
  6. Shawn considered the walk productive and said that violations they see are usually no lids or not enough containers. He stated that the foremen had been out that day and didn’t see violations with the following properties:  171 Pius, 185 Pius, 1918, 1920, 1930 S. 18th  He said that 494 Sterling received citations and they were working with PLI on structural issues.  He felt that the landlords are not giving the tenants the correct information or the tenants didn’t care.
  7. Bruce Kraus stated that tenants and landlords are to complete a tenant/landlord responsibility document when they sign the lease and it is to be attached to the lease. If Environmental Services would ask to see the lease and it not be attached, there could be a fine.  Currently, when Environmental Services is speaking to tenants, they do not ask to see the lease.
  • A resident asked if the committee has met with the realtors who manage the SS properties to reinforce the refuse regulations. Barbara indicated that we had not done so for several reasons – we are a new group that is all volunteer.  We also haven’t found that the realty companies are the big offenders.  We have heard from residents who have shared that they are responsive when there is a problem.  It is hopeful that we can build a landlord database as we move forward.
  1. A resident referred to item 912.04h of the city zoning code and asked if the 1700 block of Carey Way was a mixed use area. She stated that there are residents on one side and businesses with dumpsters on the other side.  Julie said that she would need to check on that.
  2. A resident asked what was meant by an illegal parking lot that was listed under types of issues that PLI handles. Julie stated that it is when a vacant lot may be been paved and turned into a parking lot.  There is a need for a license since the city collects a parking tax on parking lots.  It was suggested that a 311 service request be initiated if a resident thinks that someone has an illegal parking lot.

 

  • South Side Crime Report
  1. Commander Karen Dixon
  2. Saturation Patrol Statistics for September up to the 23rd of the month. It did not include the last weekend in September.
Officers worked on detail 137
Cycle officers on detail 15
Supervisors on detail 23
Physical arrests 13
non-traffic citations 41
Vehicles towed 52
Zone assists 68
Parking citations 215

 

  1. Commander Dixon shared the crime statistics for the flats for the time period between January and August. She said that she didn’t see a spike in auto thefts although there was an increase in bicycle thefts.  Her officers wee attempting to determine what was going on with this.  There several break-ins but she didn’t see a trend.   The ones that were reported were due to intoxicated individuals not realizing that they were not in their own homes.  There was a homicide on the Slopes in September.
  • She is asking that residents alert the police before they post on social media so that they can act on it. In one case, a reporter informed the police that a package had been stolen because they had seen it on social media.  In this instance the police said that they were able to determine who had taken the package but the victim wouldn’t prosecute because Amazon reimbursed them for the item.  In another case, they were able pick up the male/female team because of a video and the willingness of the victim to report and prosecute.  The residents in the Flats have good video cameras but the police need to be involved.  She mentioned that she learned about problems on S. 17th via a phone call but when she looked to see if anyone had called the police, there were no police reports.  To a resident comment about the police not arriving in a timely manner when 911 is called, she stated that the response will depend on other activity on the SS.  The reports, however, will allow the police to see if there is “a path of destruction”.
  1. When asked if the police monitor the social media site – South Side Secrets – she said that they did but not 24/7.
  2. When asked about the high incidence of theft on the SS, Commander Dixon stated that many are stolen cell phones or wallets that are left on tables in bars.
  3. A resident from Roland Way stated that with the newly installed cameras on Carson Street, there has been more activity on the side streets and asked if permits were needed when installing cameras. Officer Auvil said that there wasn’t.  Another resident stated that visitors were urinating in an alley way next to her home and was wondering if the landlord could be contacted to put a lock on the gate.  Bruce asked her to work with his office on this.  He also said that he would contact Peter Gordon about the problems in his lot in Carey Way.
  • Bruce mentioned that Judge Gene Ricciardi is the only judge that enforces the ordinance for public urination. Barbara suggested that the residents through the SSCC write a letter to the other magistrates explaining the importance of taking this violation seriously.  Betty stated that they had done this for trash and had worked with Judge Ricciardi on the wording.
  • A resident shared that she will take in packages for her neighbors when they are on their doorstep so that they do not get stolen. Barbara shared that the UPS store will also accept packages for residents.

 

  1. Pittsburgh Parking Authority
  2. John Fournier
  3. John shared the enforcement statistics for August
Plates read RPP tix # tickets per 1000 plate reads
CC 2234 49 21.9
DD 2346 13 5.5
II 2895 40 13.8
KK 8551 240 28.1

 

John provided information about the PED:

  • Revenue from the meters is $107,342 – averaging $4,347.44 a weekend
  • It was projected at $250,000 but this year it will be less because of the ramping up/public outreach that was done when it started.
  • RPP is coming under control/there continues to be a healthy business environment.
  • Other city neighborhoods are interested in PED
  • Other cities – Oakland, CA; NYC; Atlanta; Baltimore; Minneapolis – are also interested in what they are calling a PBD – parking benefit district.

 

  1. A resident who lived on the border of CC and DD asked if there could be a soft boundary because it can be difficult to find a place to park when your street is next to another RPP zone. John said that he would look into it.

 

  1. News from Duquesne University
  2. Tim Lewis
  3. Tim stated that he was working on a few complaints but wanted the attendees to know about the Trivia Night on Wednesday, October 25th from 5:30 – 7:30 PM that DU, along with SSCC, the Chamber, and CitiParks were sponsoring for students and residents. He shared that the trivia concept was to encourage more interaction between residents and students.   He shared a flyer that was being distributed to students and invited those in attendance to RSVP.
  4. When asked how many students were living on South Side, Tim said 863 and that last year the number was about 1100. When asked why there might be a decrease, he said that more students were staying on campus and it could also be the way that students are reporting their addresses.  He said that the numbers may increase because they must share an address in order to access DU’s resource page.  Barbara indicated that she heard that students were moving to Allentown and Slopes.  Tim also said that there was additional housing in Uptown close to DU.
  • Barbara thanked Tim for his work in quickly handling resident complaints.

 

  1. News from the Mayor’s Office
  2. Ernest Rajakone
  3. Ernest shared that there would be a city-wide public safety meeting on Wednesday, October 18th and the topic would be “Preparing Communities for Emergencies”.

 

 

 

 

  • News from City Council
  1. Bruce Kraus
  2. Bruce expressed concern that a post on social media had wrongly accused him of wanting to sell the Oliver Bath House when the article in the paper had merely stated that a study had been completed in which they made recommendations about city buildings. He shared that, as a result of that article, he spent his day explaining what the article stated and did not state.  He did say that the building was going to need about 2 million to repair.  Barbara suggested that next year, residents attend the Capital Budget meetings and request monies to repair the problems at the Oliver Bath House.
  3. Bruce shared that approximately 13 million would be coming to the SS for several projects.
    1. PennDot is making curb to curb improvements to Carson Street and the city is allocating 1.5 million to replace utility poles, street lighting, etc to complement the state work.
    2. Restructure the 18th Street Corridor – The intersections of Carson, Sarah and Jane will have new signals and Josephine will receive signals. He expects to talk with the Dept of Innovation and Mobility to see if lights can be installed at 18th and Mary.
    3. 21st Street Corridor – monies will be coming from a variety of sources.
  • Bruce shared that the 4th Division building would be closing and services would be coming from both the 3rd and 6th
  1. Bruce also spoke about the success of the PED on SS. When asked the cost to implement, John shared the costs were minimal –  that costs for the enforcement officers were an additional $377.

 

  • News from Senator Costa’s Office
    1. Teri Cataldo Fazio
      1. Teri shared that the House still had not voted on the budget. She also stated that they were anticipating that using the PA driver licenses as ID’s would get an extension until 2020.