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Politics & Government

PLI Chief Says City’s Business License Appeal Process Violates State Law

The City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections is changing the way it handles appeals to its decisions regarding businesses licenses and property violations.

PLI Chief Maura Kennedy said a review of all bureau policies last year revealed that the current system — wherein Kennedy herself evaluates and adjudicates appeals — violates state law.

“Legally there needs to be an independent body that you appeal the director’s decisions to,” she said. “It’s not appropriate for the department both to be the judge and the jury.”

A bill introduced in City Council on Tuesday would create a five-member Board of License and Inspection Review to adjudicate disputes. Kennedy said the independent body would have the ability to dig further into safety issues such as whether a building meets the city’s fire code.

“We here at the department are sort of the umpires, so we just call balls and strikes based on the code,” she said. “But there could be valid analogous systems that would provide a similar level of safety that this board could then use as judgment to rule on for very technical matters.”

The board would also get involved in the cases of property maintenance violations, such as crumbling sidewalks or mountains of debris on a front lawn, and when a business owner believes PLI is requiring them to get the wrong kind of license.

“It could be as easy as, we’re saying you’re engaging in one type of business activity and requiring you to get that type of license, and you’re saying ‘No, I’m not actually an arcade shop, I just have several antique arcade games that don’t work in my restaurant,’” Kennedy said.

Under the proposal, board members would be appointed by the mayor and would serve three-year terms. A similar board already exists for construction and engineering permits.

Council is slated to discuss the bill at its committee meeting Wednesday.