Henon bill targets chronic problem property owners

On Thursday City Council will consider a bill introduced by 6th District Councilman Bobby Henon that would give the city’s property maintenance code some additional punch.

The legislation would introduce a new offense for “chronic non-compliant” residential property owners. To fall into this category, a property owner would need to rack up three separate unaddressed code violations in two years, or six violations in two years even if they did take corrective action on the issues.

Individually the size of the fines for each code violations–$150– is relatively small. But each one is considered a separate offense with a separate penalty, so they can add up over time.

The monetary pain isn’t necessarily the principal point of the legislation though. Henon tells PlanPhilly that he wants to use the legislation to help the Department of License and Inspections to target bad actors.

“If you have six occurrences in two years you are thumbing your nose at the city, your neighborhood, and the tenants who are paying your bills,” says Henon. “It’s just adding an additional tool to our tool box. It’s going to be an effective way to single them out easier for L&I. Then they are going to take them right to court.”

The bill went before City Council last week, where Henon amended it to restructure the number of code violations required to become a chronic offender from two such violations in two years to three.

Henon tells PlanPhilly that he introduced the legislation because lapsed property maintenance has always been the number one quality of life issue, by far, that his office is contacted about.

This isn’t the first time Henon focused on the issue of problem property owners. Dealing with nuisance properties and bad landlords were one of the primary issues he ran on during the 2011 election season.

When he first entered office in 2012, Henon says he mapped the effects that severely neglected properties have on property values in neighborhoods of his district in Northeast Philadelphia.  He found that they greatly depreciated the value of surrounding properties, harming both the city’s finances and those of his constituents.

The issue turned into something of a crusade. At the beginning of Henon’s time in council, he began a shaming campaign against code violators in his district. Dubbed the Bad Neighbor Initiative, he used it to encourage residents to report on problem properties in their neighborhoods. Henon’s office then mapped the results on his website. A few months later he subpoenaed multiple landlords to testify before council.

Now his “chronic non-compliant” legislation is likely to be approved by city council this week.

“They are destroying our neighborhoods,” says Henon.  “Not only destroying the quality of life of their tenants, but they are destroying the neighborhood’s property values. People who are trying to stay here, raise their families here. They decrease the property value, then the schools suffer, the general fund suffers. It really does have an effect on the city as a whole.”

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