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Pittsburgh set to relaunch program that fines 'problem properties'

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The program, which went dormant in 2020, has been depicted as one solution for issues along East Carson Street in the South Side.

Pittsburgh is taking steps to penalize the owners of so-called problem properties — and to deliver on Mayor Ed Gainey's promise earlier this summer to relaunch the city’s disruptive properties program to curb crime on the South Side.

City Council on Tuesday appointed four people to serve on an appeals board is required to vet resident complaints. The board can have five members, but four is enough to have a quorum and allow the program to start again.

“Disruptive properties affect everybody’s quality of life and I think that we’re all committed to addressing this across the city," said council President Theresa Kail-Smith.

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Under the policy, the city will declare a property “disruptive” if owners receive three citations within one year. A property owner can dispute a citation in court, but once three citations are issued, the owner will be fined for all public safety calls thereafter. Property owners can petition to clear the classification by avoiding public safety calls for 12 consecutive months.

But it is still not clear when the city will actually implement that process. Kail-Smith said "I anticipate that it will be rather soon" — and likely within the next month. City leaders are enthusiastic about the impact the program will have across the city, she said.

While the Gainey administration has touted the promise of reviving the program, the city did not respond to queries about when that would happen.

The disruptive properties program dissolved in 2020, though officials haven’t clarified why or exactly when.

City leaders have used the South Side Flats as an example of one neighborhood that can benefit from a resource for complaints about firearms, disorderly conduct or underage drinking. But Kail-Smith notes that many Pittsburgh neighborhoods could use such a mechanism.

Kail-Smith claims that in her own district, which includes the city's West End and Mt. Washington, she has received dozens of calls from residents about property owners allowing trash and drug paraphernalia to collect in yards and walkways.

The policy could also have application for problematic short-term rental properties — which have attracted council's scrutiny after an Easter Sunday shooting at an Airbnb property on the city’s North Side.

A measure that would require short-term rental owners to be licensed with the city is under consideration by Council. But in the meantime, residents could file complaints about violations of a list of city ordinances that address excessive litter, unkempt lawns, excessive noise, or underage drinking.

“I think it’s beneficial to the residents living around a disruptive residential property, and I think it could also be something that addresses rentals such as Airbnbs,” Kail-Smith said.

“It’s a way to address problem properties in all of our districts.”

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.