Inga Saffron details the frustration of many Philadelphians with the City’s inability to effectively deal with blighted and – – almost always — tax delinquent properties. It is understandable that the City and government in general in unable to effectively deal with these properties. Luckily, citizens in Pennsylvania are empowered to take action against blighted properties on there own and without the help of government bureaucrats.
68 P.S. 1101, et. seq, otherwise known as the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act or simply Act 135 was enacted in 2009 in order to “provid[e] a mechanism to transform abandoned and blighted buildings into productive reuse” and as “an opportunity for communities to modernize, revitalize and grow, and to improve the quality of life for neighbors who are already there.” Under Act 135, neighbors and businesses within 500 feet of a blighted property can petition the Court for the appointment of a conservator. If appointed, a conservator becomes the de facto owner of the blighted property and acquires the power to engage in acts to rehabilitate and sell the property, just like the owner could.
In order to be subject to an Act 135 action and property must meet the following criteria:
(1) The property must not have been legally occupied for at least the previous 12 months;
(2) The property must not have been actively marketed during the 60 days;
(3) The property must not be subject to an existing foreclosure action; and
(4) The property must not have been acquired by the current owner within the past six months; and
(5) At least three of the following are present:
(i) The building or physical structure is a public nuisance.
(ii) The building is in need of substantial rehabilitation and no rehabilitation has taken place during the previous 12 months.
(iii) The building is unfit for human habitation, occupancy or use.
(iv) The condition and vacancy of the building materially increase the risk of fire to the building and to adjacent properties.
(v) The building is subject to unauthorized entry leading to potential health and safety hazards and one of the following applies:
(A) The owner has failed to take reasonable and necessary measures to secure the building.
(B) The municipality has secured the building in order to prevent such hazards after the owner has failed to do so.
(vi) The property is an attractive nuisance to children, including, but not limited to, the presence of abandoned wells, shafts, basements, excavations and unsafe structures.
(vii) The presence of vermin or the accumulation of debris, uncut vegetation or physical deterioration of the structure or grounds has created potential health and safety hazards and the owner has failed to take reasonable and necessary measures to remove the hazards.
(viii) The dilapidated appearance or other condition of the building negatively affects the economic well-being of residents and businesses in close proximity to the building, including decreases in property value and loss of business, and the owner has failed to take reasonable and necessary measures to remedy appearance or the condition.
(ix) The property is an attractive nuisance for illicit purposes, including prostitution, drug use and vagrancy.
Pretty much any blighted property in Philadelphia fits these criteria and is, therefore, subject to a Act 135 action. Amazingly, despite the Act being passed over 4 years ago, Act 135 actions are uncommon. While Act 135 empowers neighbors to take control of blighted properties, it also permits municipalities to take control of a property through Act 135 as well. Actions by municipalities are virtually non-existent. With Act 135 there really is no excuse for not taking action against abandoned and blighted properties. Moreover, if the City of Philadelphia really wanted to get serious about combating blight, Act 135 is sitting there at there disposal. If the City is unwilling to fight blight, Act 135 empowers neighbors to pick up the slack.