Landlord says shutdown is unfair, plans to appeal to housing board

Last updated: September 13. 2013 11:29PM - 4370 Views
By - jlynott@civitasmedia.com

Wilkes-Barre mayor Tom Leighton holds a notice of condemnation for an apartment at 216 Carlisle St. as he points to the spot where authorities forced the door during a raid.
Wilkes-Barre mayor Tom Leighton holds a notice of condemnation for an apartment at 216 Carlisle St. as he points to the spot where authorities forced the door during a raid.
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WILKES-BARRE — The shutdown of an apartment Friday where police said they seized crack cocaine left property owner Adam Peters without a monthly rental payment and angry he’s been lumped with bad landlords targeted in the city’s new one-strike ordinance for problem properties.

The ordinance went into effect on Sept. 1 and was used as the basis for closing the second-floor apartment at 216 Carlisle Street for six months. The shutdown will cost Peters $3,750 in rent, he said. But besides the hit to his finances, he says his reputation’ s been damaged as a property owner trying to renovate vacant buildings into homes not just apartments.

“Bottom line, that is not how you do it. You do not penalize somebody who is trying to improve your community,” he said Friday after Mayor Tom Leighton and city officials held a press conference in front of the apartment building.

They had taped a notice on the front door to mark the closing. A first-floor apartment remains open and occupied.

In 2010 Peters, 26, of Red Hill and the owner of a trucking company, bought the property at one end of a string of row houses on the one-way street not far from from the intersection with Carey Avenue for $35,000. He’s put nearly $15,000 more into fixing it up, he said.

The tenant who first rented it took off her shoes to walk on the new rug and Peters said she cried saying, “I can walk around in this apartment barefoot.” The others places she looked at had stained and dirty rugs, he said.

Peters’ property manager allowed reporters into the apartment. The rooms seemingly had been ransacked, with clothes tossed on the floor and furniture upended. A smoke alarm chirped, signaling the battery needed to be changed. The holder for one smoke alarm was attached to a wall in a bedroom, but the device was not attached. A third alarm was located at the top of the stairs. The city condemned the apartment on Wednesday for not having working smoke detectors.

Peters acknowledged he’s an out-of-town landlord, but his property manager from Scranton responds to calls and checks on the building. He also admitted that he probably was duped by the second woman to whom he rented the place in March. He said she allowed others into the apartment that police raided Wednesday morning; police allegedly removed crack cocaine, $28,000 in cash, a digital scale and packaging materials.

One of the men arrested, Patrick Miller, 25, listed the apartment as one of his addresses, but he was not on the lease, Peters said.

That’s no excuse countered the mayor.

Leighton introduced the ordinance in August as a get-tough response to the rise of violent crime that he tied to rental properties. The ordinance sets a one-strike limit for gun and drug charges, holding landlords and tenants responsible for what happens at the properties.

“I want our residents, our good residents, to know that we’re cracking down on the landlords that are bringing filth and dirt and crime into our city,” Leighton said of the first enforcement of the ordinance.

“We’re going to hit ‘em. We’re going to hit these landlords that don’t care about the city of Wilkes-Barre,” the mayor said.

But Peters said he’s done everything by the book to get the property licensed and inspected. He asked what’s he supposed to do short of harassing the tenants by sitting outside the apartment with binoculars.

“This is coming down to me trying to police the tenant,” he said.

If the city knew of a problem with the apartment, it should have notified him to address it, Peters said.

He added that he’s spoken to a few lawyers. He’s planning to challenge the closing by going before the newly created Housing Board of Appeals.

Peters has that right, but the evidence is “overwhelming in the city’s favor,” Leighton said.

As for legal challenges to the ordinance, the mayor welcomed them. “We’re very confident that this ordinance will hold up at any court level, ” he said, “and again, I think as illegal activity takes place in rental units or owner-occupied units we’re going to continue to shut ‘em down.”

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