THE PROBLEM: Darrell Ross got a warning notice in June about a ticket the Streets Department had issued to him for having litter in front of his house.
It warned him he had to pay a fine or could face further action by the city.
Unfortunately, Ross doesn't live at the property the ticket was issued to - 4813 Locust St. He lives a block or so away.
He also never got the original ticket. Instead, the warning notice was mailed to his old home in New York. He found out about the violation only after the current residents forwarded it to him.
Ross called the city almost weekly after receiving the notice in June, he said, but wasn't able to convince anyone at the department (he doesn't remember who he talked to) that he doesn't actually live in the house the city ticketed.
He was told he had to go to a hearing (set for next June!) to plead his case. (The city reduced the number of examiners who judge administrative appeals as part of recent budget cuts, meaning administrative appeals like Ross' are backed up.)
Ross didn't want to wait a year to resolve the issue. He thought it should be apparent he had nothing to do with the violation.
But things didn't appear to be so obvious to the city.
"The city's property records say that I own" the house, Ross said he was repeatedly told.
GHOST ADDRESS. We called up Paula Weiss, executive director of the Office of Administrative Review, to find out what happened.
She said it's clear Ross doesn't live at 4813 Locust St.
He can't possibly live at 4813 Locust because 4813 Locust doesn't exist. There's no such address in Philadelphia.
Weiss said that the Streets Department inspector who wrote the original ticket on Feb. 1 wrote down the wrong property number, probably believing the property was 4813 Locust St., since not every building in the city has an address on the front. Sometimes, inspectors end up making an educated guess.
When the ticket was entered into the city's electronic system, the computer realized that the property didn't exist. So the person processing the ticket assigned it to a nearby property that he thought the inspector intended to ticket.
Weiss theorizes that the inspector intended to ticket a property on the corner of Locust and South Hanson, a small side street, and that the person doing data entry gave the violation to Ross' home, on the corner of Locust and South 49th instead. The inspector probably didn't intend to give it to Ross, whose house would not be easily confused with the one in question.
Ross said he'd rather not be the recipient of the city's generosity in this regard.
But the city did the right thing. Kinda. Even before Help Desk contacted the city, Weiss said, the ticket had been suspended for further review. Streets will have another go at it and try to assign the ticket to the right person this time, she added.
This means Ross' phone calls "did trigger activity," Weiss said.
Unfortunately, Help Desk was the first to inform Ross of this.
He said that in his weekly calls he was never told enforcement action on the ticket had been suspended - something Weiss admitted should have been conveyed over the phone.
AT THE SAME time, she said, the results of the investigation would have been mailed to him before his hearing date, meaning he wouldn't have had to trek downtown to get the issue resolved.
Would the city have mailed the notification to his old address in New York? We'll never know. But Weiss offered to correct the city's records to reflect his current address.
Given the confusion surrounding this violation, we're going to check back in with Ross to see how things work out.
If you're the actual homeowner who should have gotten this ticket, sorry for the bad news.
Have city services confused you in some way? Tell us about it at www.thecityhowl.com, or call 215-854-5855.