Mayor Nutter announced today that the city will do a complete review of other properties owned by the New York-based developers who own the vacant East Kensington factory that caught fire Monday morning leaving two Philadelphia firefighters dead.
Neighbors pointed fingers at the city and the Department of Licenses and Inspections for not sealing the building which attracted squatters. Nearby residents said they filed numerous complaints with the city. (Check out today’s story in the Daily News.)
The city said it was in the process of taking the owners Michael and Yechiel Lichtenstein to court for violating city codes and not paying property taxes.
Nutter said the developers own at least 30 other properties in the city.
“We’re doing now an extensive review of all of their property ownership from an inspection standpoint to see what the status of those individual properties are,” Nutter said. “We would want to know the nature of these properties, their present structural capacity, whether there are any outstanding taxes due, water bills, etc, etc. So we will do a full and complete review with regards to their holdings and that will also become a part of the larger investigation.”
Nutter said the city will also take a closer look at vacant similarly situated large buildings citywide.
“We are now taking a look at similarly situated large vacant buildings all across the city of Philadelphia to assess their status, ownership, back taxes, accessibility, all of those kinds of issues from a public safety standpoint to make sure that again we can take every possible step and learn from this horrific experience and see how we can both step up either enforcement or get property owners to develop or redevelop their properties to make sure that we don’t face this kind of situation,” he said.
Nutter said that since the city stepped up its efforts last year targeting delinquent property owners and those with code violations that many owners have fixed vacant properties and paid off fines, but he said more still needs to be done.
Following a press conference on a unrelated matter in City Hall, District Attorney Seth Williams was asked about the possibility of pursuing charges against the owners.
“If there is criminal responsibility then we will ensure that someone is prosecuted and held to justice as a result of that,” Williams said, adding that his office will conduct an investigation following the Fire Marshal’s investigation –which can take up to a week.
If the fire cause of the fire is determined to be arson, Williams said the individual(s) will be held accountable and the District Attorney's Office will also see if “there is any way in which the owner of the property should be held responsible as a result of creating or allowing this catastrophe to occur.”
Nutter said the owners, who he confirmed also owe $260,000 in taxes on a property located on Market near 7th neglected the property.
“I’m not the DA and I’m not a lawyer, but it just seems to me that the work that L&I did, three separate notices that we know were received, putting a property owner on notice that they are in violation of a code, that they have open access points, that their property presents a danger, appears to me, as more of a civilian, lay person that there is some level of neglect here,” Nutter said.