Updated: Dec 2, 2021
BRIAN C. RITTMEYER| Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021 3:43 p.m.
Squatters and wildlife in a dozen rundown New Kensington houses may need to find new places to live within a matter of months.
City Council, sitting as the Board of Health on Monday, ruled 12 properties to be detrimental to the health, safety and general welfare of the community and declared them to be public nuisances.
Code Enforcement Officer Pat McGrath said people have been or are squatting in some of the houses or their garages. Rats, raccoons and even hawks and an owl were in some of them, he said.
Council declared all to be unsafe structures and ordered their demolitions.
Their owners have 30 days to appeal the determinations to court, city Clerk Dennis Scarpiniti said. After that, the city will seek bids for the demolitions and award a contract, with work anticipated to start early next year.
The property owners were given time to get them fixed, and notified of Monday’s meeting, Scarpiniti said.
Council addressed each property individually, but no one was present to speak for any of them. Councilman Doug Aftanas said that bothered him.
Aftanas said he has visited some of the buildings and knows neighbors are upset about how they have affected their own properties. He expressed frustration at how long it takes to get dilapidated structures torn down.
“This process needs to continue in the 10s, 15s (at a time), as expeditiously as possible,” he said. “We need to continue to do this until we see more come down. The money’s there.”
Mayor Tom Guzzo and Councilman Todd Mentecki said they agreed with Aftanas. Guzzo said demolitions need to be done on a more regular basis.
“We are going to continue putting all of our efforts into tackling” the problem, Guzzo said.
Council recently hired Matt Sobecki to a full-time position in the city’s code enforcement office. Mentecki said having Sobecki dedicate his time to working on the issue with McGrath should help.
The properties the city is preparing to tear down are at 1207 Victoria Ave., 264 McCargo St., 220 and 556 Ridge Ave., 728 Bridge St., 9 Robinson St., 1230 Kenneth Ave., 1134 Seventh St., 849 Franklin St., 1211 Leishman Ave., 125 Catalpa St. and 1310 Woodmont Ave.
McGrath detailed the issues with each property, and Guzzo asked if anyone was present to speak regarding it before council voted. All votes were unanimous.
Cracked and crumbling foundations, holes in roofs, broken or missing windows and overgrown vegetation were common problems.
Using a drone, McGrath said officials saw five holes in the roof of 220 Ridge, where garbage is piled 2 to 3 feet high in the backyard. The house at 125 Catalpa has a hole in its roof the size of a car, he said.
At 1230 Kenneth, McGrath said raccoons were jumping from that building to a neighbor’s home, where they were able to make their way into the neighbor’s attic.
The owner of the house at 1134 Seventh St. walked away from it after a fire in April 2019, McGrath said, adding the owner has paid $9,000 in fines rather than tear it down.
One property, at 556 Ridge Ave., was said to not have had water service since 1988. McGrath said this house was too unsafe to go inside.
For each property, the city authorized its solicitor to file municipal liens with the county prothonotary for the cost and expenses of the demolitions.