Walko anti-blight bill heads to governor

HARRISBURG, Nov. 12 – The House and Senate have passed a bill (H.B. 2188) authored by state Rep. Don Walko, D-Allegheny, that would give common pleas judges more authority to tackle the problem of abandoned and blighted properties.

“Even one abandoned or blighted property can drag down an entire block or neighborhood. My legislation would make it easier to use the courts to address this problem when the owners can’t or won’t do it. This legislation would apply if a building is in violation of municipal code requirements or has been declared a public nuisance,” said Walko, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts.

Under the bill, several types of people and organizations would be able to file petitions with common pleas court to start the process, which would be available for residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

Those eligible to file would include: the owner, residents and business owners within 500 feet of the building, a lienholder or other secured creditor of the owner, a nonprofit corporation in the municipality where the building is located, or a municipality or a school district in which the building is located.

A common pleas judge could then appoint a conservator to bring a building into municipal code compliance if these conditions applied: the building has not been legally occupied for the previous 12 months; it has not been actively marketed for 60 days before the petition was filed; the building is not subject to an existing foreclosure action; and the current owner failed to present sufficient evidence that he or she acquired the property in the previous six months.

The conservator would be entitled to file a lien against the property to cover costs incurred during the period of conservatorship. The amount of the lien could be adjusted as needed.

The common pleas court could authorize the sale of a building in conservatorship if the court found that notice and an opportunity to comment was given to each owner of record and each lienholder, the conservator has been in control of the building for more than six months and the owner has not successfully petitioned to end the conservatorship, and that the buyer has a reasonable likelihood of maintaining the property.

The bill now goes to Gov. Ed Rendell.