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Blight bills would create grant program, but can't close loopholes

Written by Emily Previti | Jun 11, 2014 4:34 PM

 (Harrisburg) --- Proposed legislation would establish a matching grant program to help municipalities combat blight, but wouldn't close loopholes in other state laws that frustrate prevention efforts.

The House of Representatives Urban Affairs Committee voted out two bills Wednesday aimed at helping local governments deal with dilapidation.

One would add a $250 surcharge to code violation fines to fund a matching grant program to pay to hire and train local code enforcement staff. Municipalities would be eligible for annual awards up to $100,000 for no more than three years.

Committee staff couldn’t provide estimates of how much money the extra fine would generate.

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It’s tough to accurately calculate that because negligent property owners often pay fines late, or over long durations through payment plans established by the courts – if they pay at all.

They're often hard to find - sometimes because they’ve listed a corporation instead of their actual name as the owner of record, or their contact information is outdated.

House Bill 2120 directs local officials to the corporation’s address on file with Pennsylvania’s Department of State.

It also points code enforcement to statewide digital court records to search for existing outstanding code violations against permit applicants and prospective property owners.

The goal of the second provision is to stop additional blight by preventing chronic code offenders from acquiring more properties.

But those searches wouldn’t detect owners who buy properties using multiple corporate entities.

And in the unlikely event that a municipality actually has time to cross-reference the state business registry, that’s effort likely wasted because Pennsylvania doesn’t require corporations to provide the names of principals.

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