Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz took aim at the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections Wednesday, after his office found that more than 1,000 vacant properties were in violation of city code.
The report released by the controller concluded that 100 of those properties are considered imminently dangerous, unsafe, or hazardous.
Citing inaccurate records and a lack of funding, Butkovitz said the department’s slow response to vacant building issues was unacceptable, and went as far as calling some of those properties, “time bombs waiting to go off.”
“If they do not enforce basic safety requirements on building construction and demolition, people die. And in case we didn’t know that, we know it now, everybody in the city knows it now after 22nd and Market Street,” said Butkovitz, referencing the Center City building collapse of 2013.
Specifically, the controller’s report identified 1,215 privately owned vacant properties with violations ranging from high weeds to collapsing roofs. Some properties had already been knocked down, contradicting the department’s database that the structures were still standing.
Butkovitz said some of those issues stemmed from a lack of building inspectors. He called for L and I to add an additional 100 to its current staff of 56, which he estimated would cost more than $3 million annually.
“They always try and avoid a direct response to a specific problem. It’s always something that’s wrong with the technology, or it’s something will be fixed when we get this magic new technology,” said Butkovitz. “We manually and physically sent people out to do visual inspections to determine the real situation on the ground. If we did that, they could do that, if they had the staffing.”
Butkovitz also suggested targeting specific neighborhoods where many of the problem buildings are, and raising vacant property license renewal fees up to $1,000 for those with outstanding violations.
Of the seven buildings identified as imminently dangerous, Butkovitz said L and I tore down three last week. According to the controller’s report, the city is budgeting around $9 million for building demolitions this year.
“I’m happy to see Commissioner Williams taking some action,” said Butkovitz. “It’s not as much action as the conditions really require, but it is forward movement.”
Department of Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams did not return calls for comment on this report.