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Q: How can a Property be Disruptive? A: When the Dog Gets Loose.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | February 22, 2009

Posted by Cliff Tuttle

We obtained our first glimpse of the future and it wasn’t pretty.

The City of Pittsburgh sent out the first batch of warning letters under the disruptive property ordinance, passed late last year. The report in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette indicated that the list included quite a few petty matters and is likely to cause a great deal of trouble to a great many people without any tangible benefit.

According to the PG article, 14 of the first batch of 39 notices were for drug offenses, three for gun violations and 18 loose dogs.

It might seem that, dog violations aside, the ordinance is striking a blow in the war against drugs and illegal guns. However, a little thoughtful analysis dispels that myth.

Drug dealers and drug users have to live somewhere. If he is evicted by his landlord, he will soon find somewhere to live. Landlords who use criminal record checks will tell you that this is not adequate to screen out a determined and devious applicant. Friends and relatives, wives and girlfriends, or “business associates” with no criminal record are increasingly making rental applications for units that turn out to be occupied by persons who the landlord wouldn’t have approved. Or, more commonly, the undesirable tenant just camps out here and there with friends. With City enforcement of the disruptive properties ordinance in the picture, this kind of conduct can be expected to become commonplace.

So, a landlord evicts a drug convicted tenant after receiving one of these poison pen letters from the City. The next tenant throws trash in the yard, leading to a citation and conviction. Letter number two comes and tenant number two is evicted. The next tenant has a dog who likes to take unauthorized walks. Strike three. After all, it is the property not the tenant that is “disruptive” under the ordinance. While the ordinance says that a strike will not be assessed if a landlord is in the process of evicting a tenant, there is nothing in the ordinance that states that past violations are erased when the tenant is evicted.

After that, the landlord will receive a bill for the City’s services. The only escape for the beleaguered landlord is to go to a hearing before a special appeals board and hope that the board dispenses mercy. Perhaps the appeals board will erase strikes when the tenant is changed as a matter of course. If so, an appeal and a session before the board will still be required. This could be a very busy appeals board.

Does the strike count go back to zero when the property is sold? Again, nothing in the Ordinance says so. Will the City provide a prospective buyer with a report of how many strikes a property has — ever had? Who would want to buy a property with two strikes? Who would want to buy a property where multiple strikes had occurred over the years and been removed? On the other hand, if the City doesn’t provide such a report, who wants to buy into this kind of risk?

What are the unintended consequences of this disruptive properties ordinance? Properties that can’t be sold? Streets full of boarded up properties? Purchasers of rental properties avoiding the City? Tenants avoiding the City? All of these bad outcomes seem likely. All of these bad outcomes would be more disruptive than the problem the ordinance is trying to solve.


[See a related post on rental property registration by clicking here.]


CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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