Pittsburgh couple waits in fear as city-owned duplex collapses next door

PITTSBURGH — A young Pittsburgh couple is terrified the home next door is going to collapse to the ground. It is a condemned duplex on Columbus Avenue, owned by the City of Pittsburgh.

There are only a few feet between the condemned homes that are falling apart and the couple’s home.

The family started getting concerned in May 2023. That is when there was a partial collapse next door.

“We heard a loud crash and looked outside and saw that whole entire side had collapsed,” said Joe Testa, who owns the home next to the falling duplex.

The structural failure left gaping holes in the back of the structure. You can now see directly into the back of the home, as well as sinking floors, ceilings and loose bricks.

Testa reported the partial collapse to the city immediately and sent Channel 11 more than a dozen emails, messages to 311 and follow-up correspondence with city officials, elected officials and more.

“The concern is just the safety factor of our entire family,” Testa said. “We definitely pay more attention to the weather now.”

He knows a strong windstorm could send the duplex crashing down and into his home.

The Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections ranks condemned structures on a scale of one to four. One stands for structurally intact. Four represent structures deemed imminently dangerous. The homes at 1305 and 1307 Columbus Avenue last received inspection scores of two and three, respectively.

Bricks have been falling from the home onto the sidewalk, and the city recently closed the sidewalk around the property to protect passersby.

“It was not on the priority list of emergency demolitions despite the fact that we have put barricades up and acknowledged the fact that it is problematic,” Councilman Daniel Lavelle said.

His office requested the homes at 1305 and 1307 Columbus Avenue be added to the city’s list of emergency demolitions. That request has not been granted.

11 Investigates asked Lavelle if he is worried about liability if the property fails and injures someone or destroys property.

“Yeah. It’s very concerning, part of the reason we’ve advocated and asked for these structures to come down,” he said.

“You can see that the ceilings and the floors are caving in and that there’s no back wall. How isn’t that considered imminent danger?” asked Investigative Reporter Jatara McGee.

“You would have to speak with the director of PLI. I cannot speak to that,” Lavelle said.

11 Investigates requested an interview with Director of Permits, Licenses and Inspections Dave Green weeks ago and repeatedly followed up. City spokeswoman Maria Montano declined to respond to those requests. She later sent a statement.

“Of the roughly 1,700 condemned properties, currently, 12% or over 200 are assigned scores of 3 or 4. Our 2024 budget allows for the demolition of approximately 100-120 buildings. We allocate half of this budget to demolish buildings that have suffered catastrophic damage and immediate demolition is necessary to protect the public. We allocate the other half to demolish buildings where immediate remediation is not necessary. As the population of condemned buildings exceeds the budget available, we make difficult decisions when selecting properties for demolition.

These structures are located in the Manchester historic district and are subject to the provisions of PCC Title 11 Historic Preservation. Title 11 grants PLI the authority to direct work, including demolition, to preserve public health and safety. To respect the public process associated with the preservation code, PLI is circumspect about using this authority. Therefore, PLI escalates the decision to the Assistant Directors and Building Code Official and is not reliant on a single individual.

Regarding the subject neighborhood, Manchester is a historic minority community that has lost a significant portion of the existing historic fabric. Given this, the loss of additional historic buildings can have an outsized impact on the neighborhood. PLI does its best to balance the preservation goals with ensuring public safety.”

After 11 Investigates started calling city leaders, Testa received an email from Director Green saying the city would include both the homes at 1305 and 1307 Columbus Avenue in its current review of city-funded demolitions.

It could be months or longer before the buildings are torn down.

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