Appeals board reopens rental at 1st meeting

A city apartment at 727 Hepburn St., closed under rules in the rental ordinance for alleged drug and gun activities by a tenant, will be reopened for rent following a vote taken Monday by the city housing board of appeals.

The reversal of the closure was the first case of four appeals Monday before the board. The vote count, whether to vote yes or no, was misunderstood and the board meant to keep the apartment closed until November but nonethless, it was recorded.

“We’re open,” said a spokeswoman for PNAZ Lmtd., the property owner at 727 Hepburn St. The apartment has remained closed for six weeks under an ordinance allowing the city codes department to keep it shut down for up to six months.

The board voted 3 to 2 to reverse the appeal. Several landlords in attendance said after the first appeals vote that the board didn’t mean to vote that way, and that the majority of board members wanted to keep the apartment closed for six months.

A police department source suggested Ted Lyon, chairman of the board, be asked what the real intention of the board was regarding the initial vote, and an appeal that lasted more than an hour.

“We have no comment on that,” Lyon said.

Later, William Vinsko, special counsel for the city, said any change in the vote would require another meeting.

“I think they understood the owners’ and agents are playing by the rules,” said Charles M. Suhr, attorney representing the owners of the Hepburn Street property. “They check the criminal backgrounds of all the new tenants and have had their unit closed for six weeks with no rent.”

“We respect the board’s first decision, but the following three showed the board’s intent for the betterment of the city,” said city Police Capt. Michael Orwig, who testified on behalf of the city at the meeting.

In another appeal, Bob Shaffer, owner of a rental house at 909 Louisa St., reached a settlement with the city allowing him to reopen a third floor apartment by July 1.

Shaffer was credited by police and the board for taking the correct action when police seized more than $10,000 in heroin, guns and thousands of dollars from the apartment. Shaffer took steps with District Judge James G. Carn to evict the tenants.

Shaffer also distributed letters to neighbors on Louisa Street, offering his apologies. It was the kind of action praised by members of the board.

“The city needs more landlords like you,” said Ronald James, appeals’ board member.

The board did not need to vote on the appeal because of the settlement.

In two votes, the city upheld closures for up to six months of properties at 1112 W. Fourth St., owned by Michael Warner, and at 1020 Memorial Ave., owned by 17701 LLC.

In both appeals, board members thought the owners did not properly monitor their tenants’ activities.

At the Memorial Avenue property, the tenant reportedly was running an illegal haircutting business, according to the building owners’ testimony.

The tenant also provided incorrect identification with a wrong last name to her and the prior landlord at another location.

Vinsko said those who appealed and disagree with the board’s decision have 30 days to appeal the board’s decision in Lycoming County Court.

It was a good first appeals board meeting, Vinsko said.