Oct 16, 2008

Hall of Shame

Today's Morning Call features a hugh photograph of city code enforcers hanging a large sign identifying the owner of a building with code violations. The offender, Adam Thor, is Allentown's first inductee in the Allentown Landlord Hall of Shame, which is also being featured on the city website. Mr. Thor owns two buildings in the 300 block of 9th Street. Interestingly, about one year ago, an article identified this block as targeted by the Redevelopment Authority for multiple acquisitions and de-conversions. I bet Mr. Thor is ready to negotiate now! Unless Mr. Thor is the person who shot the driver on 7th Street earlier this week in front of the victim's children, he is just a scapegoat and distraction for Pawlowski's inability to deal with Allentown's real problems.


South Side Sam said...

In Addition to ignoring many safety and code violations, Mr. Thor rents to many of Allentown's real problems.

What the city is doing is great.

michael molovinsky said...

dear sam, landlords have always been easy targets, especially in allentown. i assure you the landlords did not bring the problem people to allentown, they would prefer a better clientele. city policies and programs are responsible for the changes, they created the poverty magnet. i would think if the building is so bad to warrant the "sign of shame", the city should have removed the tenants, which they did not. the city has many venues to confront unfit buildings; the rental law license, code violations, fines and declarations of unfit for habitation. this is cheap theatrics, the fact that the public can nominate landlords for this designation shows that its motive is pure politics

Anonymous said...


As a responsible landlord who "has never been cited with a code violation" you should be thrilled about this.

This law is forcing your competition to adhere to the same standards you adhere to.

Sounds like a win win to me.

Anonymous said...

MM, I disagree - out of town landlords have been shipping problem tenants into Allentown for at least the last 5yrs. Essentially, the landlord says, "Here you can rent this place in Brooklyn for $1,500/month, but if you like here's a bus ticket and you can rent in Allentown for $1,000." The problem tenant then becomes our problem.

In the aggregate I think this is a good idea as long as the "Shame" list includes big contributors to Pawlowski's campaign who are also problem landlords - public names on this list include Joe Clark and Nat Hyman. I'm sure there are others.

If it's an all-inclusive effort I'm all for it.

The Banker.

michael molovinsky said...

as i mentioned before, allentown has an assortment of remedies against problem landlords, including shutting the building down. rents in allentown are less than a quarter of the cost in nyc, landlords need not import tenants, there is an endless stream. governments have many remedies against violators, anything from fines to jail and confiscation. public shame is a slippery slope. should the widow, behind on her school taxes, have a large sign placed on her house? which city could institute a shame program fairly?- certainly not allentown. as i said before, in allentown landlords are an easy target, but it doesn't justify the scarlet L.

Anonymous said...

Good points MM - I am very interested to see how this unfolds. I hope it does good for the city, but recognize that it might not.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

Have you driven around Old Allentown lately? The city is employing all of the above strategies. Every block has one or two notices with the orange stickers on the door, including this guy's places.

When that doesn't work, and when numerous violations exist at multiple locations, I think it is pretty clear that a shame campaign is due.

While I hold the little old lady to the same standards as everyone else under the law, this case is a world away from the hypothetical situation you present.

I think traditional legal avenues between the city, the old women, and her family will work just fine making your concern a non-issue.

Bob Jr said...

When you're right, you're right, MM. (Full disclosure: I'm an Old Allentown landlord).
There are laws & civil procedures in place to handle the problems of bad housing. When we ignore the rule of law and instead applaud the rule of one man we do in fact, as MM says, begin the slide down a slippery slope.
I was shaking my head when I read this story. MM's "cheap theatrics" is a good description. And Banker correctly implies that out of town, non-connected landlords are easy prey.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 3:42, the orange sticker is "unfit for habitation" and those properties must be vacated within hours. vacating the property denies the landlord income, while the mortgage, taxes, insurance etc. must still be paid. the shame program is pure politics

Anonymous said...

You can look up property owners on the county tax assessment website. Residents can easily contact these people on their own to tell them how fed up they are with their crummy buildings or problem tenants.

I find the Hall of Shame amusing, but I don't like the idea of spending tax dollars to place ads in newspapers just to shame these people. I hope the "inductees" will be fairly selected.

Anonymous said...

How about a movement called "Properties of No Merit"?

Chris Casey said...

I'm thinking more along the lines of "Properties of Despair."

Anonymous said...

MM -

We all have frustrations with problem properties, whether they are rentals or owner-occupied. However, this approach is just for publicity.

The Mayor has plenty of tools to deal with problem properties, if it was a priority. He has chosen not to.

I have a problem with the government using its unlimited power and resources to personally attack an individual. The whole program stinks of the same personal attacks the Mayor has used against political opponents.

The Mayor is nothing more than a small-minded bully. Making that into the policy of City Hall should not be tolerated by residents.

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with the government using its unlimited power and resources to personally attack an individual. The whole program stinks of the same personal attacks the Mayor has used against political opponents

I was thinking about this on the toilet. No pun intended.

Is the City's action of "outing" a landlord a punishment without a fair hearing? Or does the right of free speech also extend to the Government, where the Gov't merely states facts which are obvious or exist elsewhere in the public record?

Is the government a person in the same way that a corporation is a person under the 14th amendment? See, e.q. Santa Clara County v. Southern PAC RR. 118 U.S. 394 (1886)

If so, does the Gov't share in the right of free speech?

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the mayor is just being a good 'community organizer.'

Anonymous said...

nlvlogic -

I am not a lawyer, so I am not familiar with the specifics of the case you cite.

However, I do know that our country's founding documents were created to protect individuals from the excesses of government. This Hall of Shame "program" that the Mayor is using seems blatantly unfair and ripe for corruption.

The city should be using the tools at their disposal to systematically deal with problem properties on a rational basis.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Pawlowski's Hall of Shame is a tool that he can easily use against his political enemies.

I checked to see what qualifies someone for this distinction. "Warnings" are a basis. So are vague tenant testimonials as well as neighbor testimonials.

There is no provision giving the property owner notice or an opportunity to be heard before his reputation is tarnished by the city.

If anyone should be ashamed, it is Pawlowski and the city officials who came up with this unconstitutional idea. It is a blatant due process violation. Believe it or not, even landlords have rights.

This could be applied discriminatorily against political enemies or properties the mayor intends to acquire for his pals.

Don't believe me? Last year, the mayor told a Morning Call reporter that a certain civic activist, who was giving Hizzoner a rough time, was nothing more than a slumlord. This landowner has never even been cited for a code violation. But he is a political enemy so i guess it must be ok to call him a slumlord. The next step will be to trump up a few testimonials by some disgruntled former tenants or a "neighbor." Next thing you know, this person can find himself a member of the hall of Shame.

This is the tactic Pawlowski always uses. He villifies people. I have no problem with something like this but not on the basis of the nebulous criteria I saw on the city website, which doesn't seem to work for anything else.

We are a nation of laws. Id\f the city expects landlords to follow them, then it should, too.

Anonymous said...

I think the answer is to foster homeownership within these neighborhoods. Buildings that used to be occupied by a family as a single family home are now broken up into many tiny apartments and owned by an absentee landlord who doesn't maintain the building. The deterioration of these properties and the stress the number of apartment renters on the infrastructure of our city is a huge problem for our school system and our community.

If property owners lived in the neighborhood, it would really be better for Allentown. Fortunately, there are a growing number of urban pioneers in downtown Allentown. As Allentown fixes its problems with crime and deteriorated buildings, we are going to see quality of life and property values increase.

You are either a part of solution or a part of the problem. It's easy to be a critic. Tell us, Michael, how you are a part of the solution.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 10:05, almost all landlords are absentee, including donald trump and the owners of the premium buildings surrounding central park and rittenhouse square. apartments per se are not the problem. in allentown it's a combination of a proliferation of low-income tenants and a city using the wrong tactic with landlords. you cannot legislate pride of ownership or induce it through ridicule. i'm an educated critic, i operated many apartments in an exemplary fashion. i have offered my expertise on this problem. my offer still stands, i'll help any city agency interact with any landlord on any problem.

Anonymous said...

MM wrote: "...apartments per se are not the problem. in allentown it's a combination of a proliferation of low-income tenants and a city using the wrong tactic with landlords."

MM - You are correct. I would like to point out that the City of York is offering a 10 year "freeze" on property taxes for properties that are distressed and rehabilitated by the investor.

Obviously, York sees the benefit of working with investors. By encouraging private investment, much more can be done than with government money alone.

The approach in Allentown is counter-productive, and will not accomplish what everybody wants for the city.