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I-Team: Problem properties and what is being done about them

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EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Problem properties are a big issue for communities all across northeastern and central Pennsylvania.

A vacant building on South Prospect Street here in Nanticoke is the type of property we are talking about. It has a date with the wrecking ball.

The I-Team found a growing problem. Community leaders across the region say they do what they can but admit it is an uphill battle.

“Tt’s long overdue. 20-30 years ago it should have been torn down already,” Jerry Sawicki of Nanticoke said.

Sawicki and his neighbors like Joe Nalepa agree. They have lived next to this dilapidated building on South Prospect Street for more than 40 years.

It’s been vacant for the past several decades. The city of Nanticoke is planning on tearing it down.

“It’s about time. Raccoons, skunks everything coming out of there. The floor collapsed. Second floor you can see right through and you can see the front. It’s a matter of time before it falls,” Nalepa said.

Nanticoke city officials tell the I-Team they have been trying to get something down with the property for years. The owner of the property turned it over to the city but now the city has to pay to bring it down.

“That’s the big issue. Financially you really don’t have a ton of money in your budget to tear down these buildings. So we sent out code enforcement and sort of get a list to try to look at the worst and go that way,” Nanticoke Mayor Kevin Coughlin said.

One problem property on Main Street in Pittston was torn down two years ago. The city took emergency action when they say the out-of-state owner would not do anything to make the property safe.

“So code enforcement is challenging because it’s not about the city or municipality coming in and being Big Brother trying to force people to do things. It’s public safety. When you come down to it public safety there’s nothing that trumps that,” Pittston Mayor Mike Lombardo said.

Pittston city officials, like other officials we spoke to across the region, say it’s about communication between them and the property owner.

“There is no silver bullet for you. You can’t just go and knock down someone’s property. There are a lot of land issues. People have rights. Even people who neglect their properties have rights,” Pittston City Code Enforcement Director Harry Smith said.

“But I can tell you if you’re not going to comply or if you are going to come in here and do a project and you’re not going to do it the right way, we are going to play hardball with you and I will see you in the magistrate’s office,” Lombardo said.

In Tamaqua the message is the same. The borough is very aggressive when it comes to issuing building permits. A big problem is finding the homes that have problems. Often times problems are discovered when something like a fire takes place at the property.

“Different elements of trying to improve the home. Home improvements not done correctly, they are making more of a fire hazard,” Tamaqua Code Office and Fire Chief James Connely said.

And Tamaqua, like other area communities, is seeing a growing trend that is contributing to the problem.

“One of our biggest problems is people purchasing properties converting them into rent them out.. A lot of time they’ll suck out the value of the property and leave it dilapidated.. Let it go up for tax sale and it makes it difficult to enforce on these individuals,” Tamaqua Code Enforcement Officer Greg Kurtz said.

All of the community leaders say there is no simple answer to this very complex problem but they all tell the I-Team that they do compare notes and strategies with other area communities because what is successful in one community may work in another community.

Nanticoke is accepting bids for tearing down this property. It should be history by the end of May.

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