Slumlords should be on alert: 2011 might be a bad year.
After decades of frustration over their limited abilities to deal with owners of blighted properties, Pennsylvania municipalities soon will have new tools at their disposal to go after slumlords.
This is a big win for tenants of these properties, communities that deal with dangerous eyesores and taxpayers who many times end up footing the bill to have a blighted building razed.
Called the Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act, the law was signed by Gov. Ed Rendell this fall. It goes into effect early next year.
Most importantly, it allows municipalities to go after landlords where it hurts them most: their assets.
The law would give local governments a way to get financial damages from a landlord with multiple blight violations, or if he has not paid his taxes, by placing a lien against all the owner's assets – not just the blighted properties.
One of the complaints many community leaders have made for years, including those in Harrisburg, is that their hands are tied when they try to regulate slumlords.
They say they find out a landlord has had problems in other communities too late or they struggle to get a slumlord living in another state to respond to complaints – even legal actions – quickly if at all.
But thanks to the new law, a landlord who has been cited for violations in one community can be denied permits or licenses in another. They also can be extradited to Pennsylvania if they live outside the commonwealth.
As Liz Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, which advocated passage of the legislation, said, the new law "gives municipalities a much bigger stick" to stop blight.
What happens too often now is that cities such as Harrisburg are left footing the bill when there is a blighted building.
If a structure is falling down or otherwise causing a hazard, city codes enforcement will try to get a landlord to pay for the needed repairs. But slumlords are able to buck the system and it is the taxpayers who are forced to pay the bill to take care of the problem.
The measure also may give an economic boost to communities. The existence of blighted buildings can have a huge financial impact on a neighborhood, especially one already struggling, and on owners around it as they see their property values plummet.
This legislation also is a great legacy to a former lawmaker who for many years tried to get a blight bill passed.
The late Sen. Jim Rhoades, R-Schuylkill, who died in a car accident in 2008, sponsored the measure. His successor, Sen. Dave Argall, picked up the mantle and successfully championed the legislation in Rhoades' honor.
For too long cities and other municipalities have been at the mercy of slumlords because of our lax laws.
Come 2011 that will change and communities should educate themselves on the law so they can clean up neighborhoods dotted with blighted buildings and make slumlords, not taxpayers, pay the price.