A week after ordering a building full of tenants evacuated with seven days' notice — by 5 p.m. Friday — Common Pleas Court Judge Lyris Younge apologized to the tenants, gave them a 30-day reprieve, and ordered the landlord to install a slew of fire-safety measures, return their deposits and last month's rent, and kick in $300 apiece for moving costs.
Younge said she made the original Sept. 27 order out of concern for the residents' safety due to numerous fire-code violations — even though the Department of Licenses and Inspections, which had been in court with the landlord for a year and a half, did not come to the hearing seeking to vacate the North Philadelphia building at 13th and Cumberland Streets.
"What the court failed to do was to give additional consideration that the tenants are really the injured party, and for that, I apologize," she said.
Younge is new to her position in the Philadelphia court's Civil Division, where she was shifted after her handling of cases in Family Court drew numerous appellate reversals, a reported ethics probe from the Judicial Conduct Board, and protests from parents whose children were removed.
After panicked tenants pleaded for help, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia sought an eleventh-hour injunction.
The building is owned by a holding company, Cumberland Equities, that converted it without any permits from industrial use into 16 or 17 apartments. Ari Miller, who was described in the courtroom as the principal member of that company, did not appear in court or respond to messages.
Fines accrued on the building total $2.8 million. Younge threatened Miller in absentia with an additional $200,000 fine and a civil contempt ruling if he did not comply with her additional orders.
James Scarborough and Jason Chandler, two tenants who are planning to stay with family in Texas while they regroup, said it was a meaningful victory, but a modest one.