Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Good-bye to an Old Pants Factory

Posted by: Noel Jones

I found this article by Ed Sieger and JD Malone in the Express Times interesting and a little sad. Apparently the embattled hub cap store that was finally closed due to numerous code violations for, among other things, being an eyesore, was previously a thriving pants factory that employed Easton residents.

The story of the battle between the city and the hub cap store has been in the news several times in the past year, and begs the question--why does it take so long to enforce codes in Easton? At a West Ward town hall meeting last year, I posed this question to Mayor
Panto, who said it's because the judges often just give slumlords and delinquent property owners a slap on the wrist and the lowest fine possible. So, one has to ask, why is that? Several residents have expressed to me that they fear that slumlords make campaign contributions to these judges, and in exchange are let off the hook when the city tries to press violations. But if that's the case, why haven't we seen any investigation into campaign contributions to judges? Does anyone know how to follow up on this--it must be public information, no?

I'm also interested in hearing alternative theories as to why code violations seem to take years to enforce on some, while they are enforced quickly on residents who are not large property owners. I know several residents in the West Ward who are good people and working hard to improve the properties they have purchased, that have been given a very hard time by the code department here...

In the meantime, I am told that we have the son of one of the most notorious slumlords of all time in our area, who, like father like son, is not taking care of his properties either. Apparently his dad is so famous that they teach a course on slumlords featuring him at one of our local colleges.

So what is going on here, when some property owners can get away with not maintaining code on their blighted buildings for years (like the hubcap store), bringing down the morale and property values of other homes in the neighborhood, while Joe Schmo gets slapped with a notice over the slightest infraction, or greeted with a hostile visit before even getting started on a renovation? (this has been reported to me by several residents--that the initial visit from the code office before beginning construction is opened with comments like, "so just what is it you think you are going to do here?") I have heard from just one resident that her experience with the code department was wonderful from start to finish, and that the people in codes were her "new best friends." But then, she was applying for a job with the city, and running for office at the time.

I am interested in any and all code stories here--whether positive or negative--post your comments here. Do you think the issue is the judges? If so, what can be done about it?


Anonymous said...

after I bought my home some years ago, I got a call from them DAYS after closing on it asking me how I was progressing on my 'list'- stamped every page saying how these needed to be fixed before I got my C.O. (certificate of occupancy)-the HUGE list of violations they came up with when the house went on the market a year earlier! I said i just moved in! they go, ok, we'll put a note in your file.
years later I still don't have my C.O. though I've made improvements well above and beyond what was on the list.
in talking w/ homeowners over the years I find lots of them don't have C.O.'s.
the list of fees and permits w/ the city is also ambiguous at best. one time I went to get a permit for some work and after the girl disappeared in the back room for 20min she came back saying I didn't need a permit for that!
you ask one guy if you do, and they tell you you need a permit for most everything, you ask someone else and they say no. its very frustrating for a do-it-yourselfer homeowner who makes renovations in the evenings and weekends to be able to get down to the city during the workday to figure out what is/is not needed! then forget it if you need to set up an appt w/ an inspector afterwards! they make it downright impossible, which is why most people take their chances and don't even bother getting a permit.

Anonymous said...

Anyone notice uneven enforcement of codes? Not if you're headless!

Anonymous said...

code enforecement is any city's biggest headache because they can only cite the owner. You need to address the courts that allow these scum bags the opportunity to continue to own these properties.. Good people will correc their violations but the bad ones will use evey delay tactic and court venue availabkle to them to delay the inevitable.

Reading the numerous articles in the Express about the HubCap store how can you possibly fault the city. The peoblem in the past is that they would out wait you and leave. This administration's clean and safe program keeps the pressure on the owner. I berliueve there were many times the city was before the courts for the owners failure to comply. After much persistence they compied.

Sandra said...

I lived in 2 apartments that had so many code violations it was sickening.I went to the codes office where the woman where very nice and provided me with the things I asked for.The problem is that the City of Easton contracts with non city providers to inspect and issue CO's.So the solution will never be resolved until the City is able to enforce codes City wide by people who work for the City and not CODE MASTER

Anonymous said...

The city has its own coe officers. Code Master oly performscertain functions but I know at least three of th code officers personally -- two live in the west ward -- Diane and Charbel.

Sandra said...

Yes,I am well aware that the City of Easton has 2 code officers. I have dealt with Diane and found her to be extremely professional and I am also familiar with Mr. Charbell. My husband's family has a construction business.What I was referring to was a personal incident where I rented an apartment that has serious deficiencies.When you can put your hand from the outside porch right through to the living room floor,I do believe we had a building code violations.And CO was issued for that dwelling.
As for the hubcap store,I applaud the City for the way it was handled and to Lafayette College for stepping up and becoming involved.Code violations are a problem I remember hearing the Mayor address this issue at a City Council meeting. I am sure the City is doing their very best,but unfortunately we have Slumlords and absentee landlords that turn their rental properties over so fast,it is hard to keep up with them all.Easton has a lot of old historical buildings and Rome was not built in a day.Perhaps if Council would enact some legislature to allow them to publish the names of the offenders as they do in the City of Allentown the "Landlords Hall of Shame" this may be a solution. But that requires a council person to propose this and the city solicitor to see if this is a possibility as I am not a lawyer just someone who had a couple of bad experiences in the WEST WARD.
Good luck!

noel jones said...

I have met Diane and she seems a nice person, but if there is a problem at the judges level, Diane's efforts will be to no avail.

Diane said...

Let me jump in here since I have been mentioned a few times in this blog. Maybe I can clarify a few things.

There are 3 code officers who work different areas of the city. In addition, we have a rental inspector and Sharbel is the mechanical inspector. His job is to mainly conduct buyer notification inspections. All of the code officers have additional jobs. I am in charge of recycling enforcement for the entire city.

I understand your frustration with compliance but until we change our ordinances, we have to treat each complaint as a new one. Therefore, if you put your garbage all over and we send you a letter and tell you to clean it up, you can clean it up and do the same thing the next week. Believe me, it is frustrating to us. We need to be able to either ticket these people or cite them after the second violation. I know that some landlords will do as little as possible but most of our complaints deal with tenants and residents who don't care. It is difficult for a landlord to control how someone lives. We need you and others to continue to call in violations and attend meetings to change the law.

Also, we have a brochure that explains when you need a permit. There is some information on the website and I have asked that the brochure be placed on the website as well. If in doubt, you can always call.

noel jones said...

Thanks for posting, Diane. What is the first step in changing an ordinance--getting an item on the city council agenda?

Dennis R. Lieb said...


Is the number of code officers currently employed sufficient and would more of them make the problem less rampant or is it more a matter of the system needing to be changed (ie, better ordinance language/bigger stick)?

I agree with you that the landlords are not totally creating the violations and that tenants and owner occupants need to be reigned in (trash, weeds, etc.) since they live there and create the problems. The landlords however are responsible for selecting tenants and they do a piss poor job of it in many cases.

At some point we need to address that issue and many others through re-examination of the rental unit licensing ordinance to tighten it up. In conversations about this with Becky Bradley she has agreed that this needs looking at but with the Planning work load good luck ever getting someone to commit to it.

Is this another issue like the first rental ordinance initiative or the zoning rewrite where the only way to get action is through an ad hoc citizen task force that does the heavy lifting?


Diane said...

Dennis & Noel

Unfortunately,your questions are not easily answered.

We need to see how other communities handle things as well as changing some of our ordinances. Some things just require changing the mindset of the violators. That can only be done if they are fined and not the landlords.

We do not have the ability to ticket people like the "Clean & Swep" program in Allentown. I am not so sure that is the answer though. People look at that like it is a way for the City to make more money and just plain harrassment. It would not be well received.

Making landlords responsible for having good tenants requires having a community that responsible people want to move into. That takes change including possible zoning changes, condeming properties and deconverting apartments.

Easton has the greatest potential to be a riverfront community close to Phila and NY but we have to make drastic changes like Jersey City, NJ did. Unfortunately change is not easy.

Having more code officers helps but that is not going to happen any time soon. We have one vacancy that has been open for a year and with the budget barely in the black, I doubt we will fill it or hire anymore.

We do need citizens to report the code violations and we need to change the ordinaces, where necessary, to be able to cite violators sooner. Unfortunately, people call after the fact when we cannot do anything.

People will change, just like with recycling, but you have to enforce the ordinances or they will stop complying.

noel jones said...

Thanks for posting, Diane.

When it comes to blight, it's the landlords that need to be cited. I get the feeling that that is where the problem with the judges that the mayor referred to comes in.

With regard to tenants properly packaging garbage and recyclables, could we write an ordinance that requires landlords to include proper disposal in their leases, and then it would be the landlords responsibility to evict tenants if they break their leases, or risk facing a fine from the city. The city gives many warnings, I understand, so landlords would have plenty of time to talk to their tenants and threaten them with eviction if they don't comply with their lease. This is the way it is handled in New York. Proper disposal of garbage is the tenants responsibility and if they do not meet that responsibility they lose their lease.

There are too many absentee landlords in the West Ward that do not care about the effect their properties have on the neighborhood, and they need to cited and fined until it becomes more cost-efficient for them to make their tenants comply, or better-vet their tenants before letting them move into the neighborhood.

Hey Diane--would you say that West Ward residents are getting better at putting out their recycling? I'm wondering if efforts at public education in the last couple of years have had an effect...I hope so--the city makes revenue from recycling, right? This is one way that residents can assist in creating revenue for our city during the recession--simply by exercising personal responsibility.