Ford City Holds Public Hearing on Property Maintenance Code Changes

Ford City Borough Council discussed upgrading their Property Maintenance Code to the latest standards adopted by the state. The discussion will continue at the July 8 meeting.

The last time Ford City updated its Property Maintenance Code was 2006. Council took comments last night by council members as well as the public on adoption of the international 2015 Property Maintenance Code.

“We consistently run into problems with property maintenance in Ford City,” Council President Carol Fenyes said. “We have blighted properties we need to deal with. We have a lot of issues and solicitor brought to our attention that our previous ordinance was the 2006 edition, so we have set about to update the code to the 2015.”

Borough Solicitor Alyssa Golfieri explained the code in much detail, stating that there are a variety of different codes such as the Uniform Construction Code (UCC), building codes, and landlord-tenant codes.

“At the state level, they adopt a set of International Codes and those codes are updated every so many years. So when the state updates the international code, municipalities typically follow. Last year, the state updated its codes to the 2015 edition.”

Council Vice-President Tyson Klukan asked if the new code could be used to legally address blighted properties in the borough.

“When the blight issues come up, there’s a couple different statutes out there that the state has given for municipalities to utilize because they recognize that blight is not just a problem happening in Ford City but all across the Commonwealth. One way to improve blight is to use the code as a tool to show various citations under the property maintenance code – citations at the magistrate. So all through the years, you’re looking at the very basic number one use by municipalities across the state is for enforcing against property maintenance issues.”

Golfieri said property maintenance includes anything from broken down/dilapidated sidewalks, to broken windows, to lack of proper drainage on the structure, rotting wood, holes in siding, roofs, down to foundations are failing and we’re looking at a potential collapse.

Klukan reminded the public that homeowners are responsible for sidewalks.

“Sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owners. Now we’re not here to say get it done right now, but I would like to say this council has put out at least $400,000 – $500,000 in making the handicap ramps on each corner and it’s a damn shame to see handicapped people going on the street because they’re concerned about being on a bad sidewalk. When I bought a house last year, I had bad sidewalks. I knew I had to replace it. And I understand economically some people might not have the money to fix it – veterans, widows, single parents etc. etc., but maybe there’s some outside groups there to help. It’s time to have some pride in your property and fix your sidewalks!”

“I want it to be known that council has not been blind or held a deaf ear to complaints,” Councilwoman Beth Bowser said. “We kept bumping into barriers.”

Councilman Marc Mantini pointed to the 40% absentee landlord rate as part of property maintenance issues.

“If your sidewalk is destroyed by somebody else, is the homeowner still responsible?” Councilman Ray Klukan asked. Golfieri said that ultimately, the responsibility rests with the homeowner.

“This council administration has had two property collapses – one within the business district and one just outside of the business district on O’Conner Street,” Tyson Klukan said.  “We just got hit with a citizen complaint today on a property that we’re trying to take down on Ridge Avenue that is concerning to the neighbors down there.”

Golfieri said the adoption of the 2015 Property Maintenance Code will replace many of the ordinances currently on the books.

“If you want to have a stand-alone sidewalk ordinance, we can take a look at the sidewalk ordinance. We can have both. We can cite property owners under both ordinances, but from a basic property maintenance blight-fight tool, it is best for us to have a property maintenance code as your foundation to begin working from.”

Realtor Dan Burk said he was concerned that adoption of the new code would not impede future real estate sales.

The ordinance is available for review in the Borough Office and the Ford City Library. A motion to continue public hearing on property maintenance code at the July 8 meeting was approved.