Sunday, April 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Who mows the lawn at a vacant house?

Oh, to be a twin owner conjoined to the worst property on the block.

Who mows the lawn at a vacant house?

Sunday's column -- about the plight of a Burlhome twin owner coping with three yaers' worth of blight after the owner next door died -- drew scads of comments, rants and raves online, in my inbox and voicemail.

First, a couple corrections and clarifications.

I mistyped when I wrote that the now-deceased owner of the blighted property at 7001 Oxford Avenue was the long-estranged cousin of his neighbor's mother, Mary Conrad. Joseph Parisi was actually Conrad's uncle -- "My favorite uncle," in fact, until a family schism four decades ago.

And I may have been unclear in describing the new Licenses & Inspections approach to nuisance properties in otherwise stable neighborhoods. Yes, L&I is attacking broken/missing windows and doors with a vengeance and hot pink signs. But technically, L&I doesn't actually fine anyone. Those $300 per day per door or window violations are levied by a judge in Common Pleas Court.

Two readers scolded me for not including Parisi's military history in the column, saying he served admirably, perhaps even heroically, under General George Patton in World War II. Fascinating details if true, but as I told them, this piece wasn't about one man's life. Rather, it was about what happens to a house when the last of four owners dies and the heirs don't step forward to pay the taxes, fix it up, move in or sell.

A few readers chided Conrad and her daughter, Melissa Ramos, who owns and lives in the attached twin, for not doing more to end the family feud and get the property up to snuff.

Conrad reminds me that she reached out to several cousins -- the adult children of the home's deceased owners -- to no avail after Parisi passed away in 2008.

"They don't care," she sighs. "They don't want to be bothered."

Who could just walk away from a house? What, I ask, do you think they think will happen?

"There's no mortgage and the place is in shambles, so I think they think the city will just take it over."

The American way, eh? Make the government clean up your mess!

As for whether Melissa and Evan Ramos could or should do more to protect their own investment? Evan Ramos does regularly cut a swath of the Parisi lawn closest to his property. But wading into the teeming corner property would take considerable time and energy. And technically, he'd be trespassing.

"He works six days a week and barely has time to mow his own lawn," Conrad explains. "It's not really his responsibility."

Readers throughout the city expressed sympathy for what the Ramoses are enduring. Blight, it turns out, has invaded even the poshest zip codes.

"The house next door to me has been vacant for four years," reports a woman from Chestnut Hill. "There are squirrels in the roof. I'm deeply concerned."

"We are having a similar problem," emails a Center City resident. "The property has been vacant for years. The owner has scaffolding surrounding the home, which has collapsed on our elderly neighbor's home. This could have resulted in injury or worse."

Still care to learn more about the scourge of the city? Brew a pot of coffee and sit back with this deep read:  Vacant Land  Management in Philadelphia: the Costs of the Current System and the Benefits of Reform.

 

-- Monica Yant Kinney

 

(read more at philly.com/blinq)


About this blog
Blinq is a news commentary blog featuring contributions from Inquirer Metro columnists Karen Heller, Kevin Riordan and Daniel Rubin.

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