Standing outside a blighted property in Port Richmond, Mayor Nutter declared war on people who neglect vacant buildings and lots.
"Let me put all property owners on notice right now," Nutter said. "Philadelphia residents should not have to put up with this kind of crap. If you're not being responsible, we're going to come find you."
At a Wednesday news conference, the mayor announced a three-part strategy to address vacant properties, widely considered one of the city's largest and most costly challenges.
Nutter plans to:
Identify owners of vacant, blighted lots and buildings.
Begin fining them $300 a day for each window and door not up to code, meaning they must be usable and not boarded up.
Take owners who do not comply to Municipal Court's new "blight court," which can force them to fix their properties or pay the fines. The court has muscle because of a state law passed last year that lets the city go after owners' personal assets if they don't comply.
Fran Burns, commissioner of the city Department of Licenses and Inspections and architect of the new strategy, said that although fines were a heavy component, the real goal was to encourage owners to rehabilitate properties and sell them or rent them out.
"If you own your property, you're responsible for maintaining it," Burns said.
Although the program has existed for several months, Nutter used the news conference to warn the public that the city would no longer tolerate blight.
He said vacant parcels become magnets for crime and trash. The city has 30,000 to 40,000 vacant properties, and they cost $8,000 per household in reduced property values, or $3.6 billion citywide, according to a study by Econsult Corp.
Nutter also said the city was overhauling the way it sells an estimated 12,000 vacant parcels it owns.
Under the current system, several government agencies, including the city Redevelopment Authority, Public Property Department, the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp., and the Philadelphia Housing Authority, own those properties. Each organization has different rules for property sales, making acquiring parcels quickly complicated for buyers.
"If you're trying to assemble a bunch of different properties, that's a daunting task," said Rick Sauer, executive director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corps.
Sauer said he hoped the city creates a land bank, but that requires legislation from Harrisburg, where State Rep. John Taylor has proposed it.
Nutter said the city was considering a land bank, but as a first step toward one-stop property shopping, he has put the RDA in charge of gathering data on city-owned properties and developing uniform rules for selling them.
As an example of the kind of landlord he is targeting, the mayor spoke in front of several Port Richmond properties owned by John Valentino.
Valentino, who said he grew up in Port Richmond and owns about nine properties there, has agreed to pay about $22,000 in fines.
In a phone interview Wednesday, he said he thought his buildings had been up to code because they were sealed.
"When I got the notice from the city, I called right away," he said.
He said financial problems, including a bankruptcy, had prevented him from maintaining the properties. He said he was concerned that the working doors and windows he installed to comply with L&I would invite thieves.
Since implementing the program in the spring, the city has cited 402 buildings for not having proper doors and windows and collected about $150,000 in fines, license fees, and lapsed taxes.
Mary Ann Trombetta, president of Port Richmond Town Watch, called the new program "fantastic" and said she hoped it would improve property values in the area.
"Maybe now when I go to sell my house," she said, "I will get what I deserve for it."