• Target 11 investigates problem properties


    PITTSBURGH - Rundown, dilapidated houses with weeds and trees growing out of control.

    These blighted areas are a neighborhood's worst nightmare.

    Every day Target 11 gets calls from viewers complaining about nuisance properties. And often times, we hear the same complaints that nothing is ever done about the problems.

    Target 11 investigator Rick Earle followed one neighborhood's quest to get something done about it.

    Earle received a call from a man complaining that his relative couldn't sell his home on Brighton Road on the North side because of problem property right next door.

    Earle went out to investigate and talked to the owner trying to sell his home.

    He said he had been trying to get someone to clean up the property for about three years. And he told Earle that it's not only blighted, but it's a safety concern as well. He was almost hit by a falling tree that crashed onto his deck.

    "I just walked of the deck and the tree fell down. so we were lucky," said Vince Mazza, who has lived in the home for 30 years and is trying to sell his place.

    Mazza and his relatives tell me they contacted everyone and couldn't get anything done. Days after we contacted the mayor's office, the Redd Up Crew came in and cleaned up the property, cutting the grass, removing trees and shrubs and clearing brush.

    "Once it becomes a public nuisance situation, or public safety issue we will go in and address it," said Public Works director Rob Kaczorowski.

    Since 2006, Redd Up has cleaned up 170 problem properties, just like the one on Brighton road.

    Target 11 got the data from the city that those clean ups cost taxpayers $136,000. The city will attempt to collect the money from the property owner, but they tell Target 11 that often times it's very difficult if not impossible to recover the costs.

    "Unfortunately throughout the city there's a huge problem with nuisance properties," said District Justice Gene Ricciardi, whose office is located on the South Side.

    Pittsburgh's Bureau of Building inspections received 11,222 complaints during the past three years, and issued 4,936 violation notices. Judge Ricciardi believes there's only one way to really get a property owner's attention. He said that's by leveling hefty fines. Recently, Ricciardi fined one landlord $750,000. Ricciardi told Target 11 that often times the fines are reduced on appeal. But he said the problems are corrected.

    "What a steep fine shows is that this is a very serious violation take care of it", said Ricciardi.

    But Target 11 discovered that the owner of the property on Brighton Road only got a $100 fine, plus court costs, for overgrowth two years ago.

    Target 11 pulled the records, and discovered five complaints about the property to the city's 311 hotline during the past three years. In august, BBI did send a notice to the owner.

    "Often times inspectors will issue verbal warnings knock on the door and say hey you gotta cut your grass. and then leave," said Pittsburgh City Council member Natalia Rudiak, who said that frequently the problem persist, and then take entirely too long to get action.
    Rudiak said there's just not enough cooperation among different agencies that investigate blighted properties, like BBI, Pittsburgh Police and the Allegheny County health department.

    "They are not sharing information, so there's no way of knowing that one house is experiencing all these different violations," said Rudiak, who believes the entire system needs overhauling.

    Rudiak said she's studied systems in other cities and believes that Pittsburgh should move to a system where blighted properties are treated like parking tickets or speeding tickets, and the issues are rectified rather quickly.

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