Mayor: Sanitary, codes violations warrant closure

One side of a double rental house on the 400 block of High Street has been shut down for numerous sanitary, building codes and fire safety violations until the owner can make repairs, according to city officials.

The closed rental unit is at 405 High St. and has been subjected to at least two search warrants over the years by officers looking for drug-related offenses, city police said.

On Wednesday, police discovered drugs and drug paraphernalia in the house, prompting a search warrant in the 405 High St. side, according to police Chief Gregory A. Foresman. The occupants in 407 High St. aren’t subject to anything other than an inspection by the codes department, he said.

“We didn’t go there because of drugs,” Foresman said. “At the time of the inspection police discovered drugs in the open that prompted a search warrant,” Foresman said. “We probably would have closed the house under the new rental ordinance that begins to be enforced by Jan. 1. The ordinance requires landlords and owners of rental properties to register names and properties with the codes department and to list the number of occupants in each property.

“This house has been recognized as a house involved in alleged criminal activity for some time and nothing was on the books for us to go after it,” Foresman said.

Police, firefighters and codes department officials responded to the property and discovered numerous quality of life conditions that warranted the rental property owned by Catherine Mabry, who lives at a different address, to be shut down temporarily until building repairs and code violations are made, according to Joe Gerardi, city codes administrator.

Three people on the lease will have to find another place in which to live, Gerardi said.

Police Capt. Timothy Miller later confirmed at least two search warrants were done at the property by police looking for drug-related activities. The most recent warrant was served at the time of the inspection Wednesday. A second search warrant was served at the property on March 9, 2010.

One resident from that location was involved in a vehicle stop where a search warrant was executed for drugs on Nov. 20, 2012, Miller said.

Police did not confirm whether anyone who lived at the house had been charged with drug-related offenses.

The property was subject of an unfounded report of shots fired Wednesday morning. No evidence of shots fired was discovered.

Fire Chief C. Dean Heinbach said there were fire violations that later were confirmed to be inoperable smoke alarms.

Gerardi said the building was posted as temporarily uninhabitable due to overcrowding, an illegal conversion of a room into a bedroom and bad roof.

There were sanitary issues, too, and authorities are working with the Lycoming County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which took away two dogs and two cats from the property, according to Gerardi.

“Until the violations are corrected, the building will remain shut down,” Gerardi said.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana used the opportunity to hold a news conference on the sidewalk outside of the building.

The enforcement action began early Wednesday when the city received a telephone call about the property in regards to alleged illegal activity occurring, Campana said.

Officials said if the ordinance had been enforced, as it is going to be Jan. 1, the building would have warranted mandatory closure for up to six months. The delay is over the registration system being not quite ready, Gerardi said.

“Today is about our continuing efforts to make neighborhoods safer and better through our Operation Pride,” Campana said. The mayor said the team effort involved police, fire and codes departments.

“I believe the investigation, which is ongoing, could result in arrests,” Foresman said.