Dec 31, 2008

Welcome to Allentown

Joanne is a long time caregiver in Easton, but she chose to buy a house in Allentown. It's a house you will not see on a house tour, but she is rightfully proud of it. It's on a busy street, in a poor section of town. Her house, the only one decorated for Christmas, is the gem of the block. This holiday season she was rewarded for her efforts by receiving an inspection notice from the City of Allentown. She knew that in recent past, her house had been bought and sold for double the money, by one of the city's non-profit housing agencies, so all the safety issues had been addressed. She knows it's not a rental, under that inspection program, or up for sale, under that inspection program, so why the inspection? Seems that Mayor Ed started the home sale inspection program at the wrong end of the curve, and we hired more new inspectors than new police. Allentown has rolled out its old "systematic" inspection program for a few lucky sections in center city. You who live in Midway Manor, or the south side, and certainly the west end, need not worry. Worry is what this post is about. Joanne is really upset, she feels this unwarranted inspection is an intrusion upon her privacy and time. She received no consolation from her call to City Hall, on the contrary, she was told about administrative search warrants, and that somebody better open the door at the designed time. Her anxiety resulted in a coworker contacting Bernie O'Hare, who in turn contacted me. Bernie and I will keep you informed about how Allentown treats this woman; so far, not well.


Michael Donovan said...


I would like to learn more about this. Please keep my informed.

Happy New Year,

Michael Donovan

A.J.C. said...

And if she passes inspection, will POM give her a golden rake?

...I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Michael for stepping up - having you part of this process is invaluable.

Happy New Year to you as well,
The Banker

Bernie O'Hare said...

Banker, I second that. When I learned of this woman's problem, I called Michael. Amazingly, he put his finger on precisely what is going on. We'll have more about that next week.

Casey Claus said...

Why is it that whenever good people try to do the right thing, the Government at any level punishes them? Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to hearing more - this stinks on many levels.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

This blog stayed in my head over the last few days. I want to know if the city has the right to simply pick a home owner and declare a need for an inspection, and then threaten them with legal action if they do not open the door and submit to an inspection.

What are the legal rights of the property owner?

Are these administrate warrants subject to judicial review?

Does not government need checks and balances against unreasonable searches of private property?

What are the specific regulations that are being enforced, and how much of what occurs in an inspection is up to the interpretation of the inspector?

What kinds of checks and balances exist to prevent these inspections to be done for inappropriate or politically motivated reasons?

Are these inspections and the processes involved transparent enough so that citizens can be satisfied that there is no malfeasance?

Do any members of the Administration or Council wish to cast some light in this dark corner?


michael molovinsky said...

allentown started doing systematic code inspections in the late 70's, early 80's under the community development block grant program; they would inspect every house, private or rental on the block, and then put in new sidewalks. this program continued for ten years or so, replacing all the sidewalks between walnut and liberty, 4th to 7th st. about this time allan jennings and ed pawlowski (alliance for building communities) started flexing their influence and the block grants were shifted from their intentioned use, to instead fund the poverty magnet ( in 1998 allentown passed the rental inspection ordinance, inspecting all properties which are rented, including single family houses. last year allentown passed the home sale inspection act, inspecting all houses which are put up for sale. all houses rented under the section 8 HUD program are also inspected by that agency. any building can be inspected anytime by virtue of a complaint, by either a neighbor or drive by inspector. the city claims the warrant process has been tested in court, and warns property owners they don't want to put the inspectors in a bad mood. now that the systematic system has been pulled out of mothballs, a rented house on a designed block could be inspected three times in one week; city rental inspectors, HUD inspectors and systematic inspectors. I know of one house that was inspected twice last week. Bill, although i haven't answered your questions per se, over the years i had about 50 inspections. allentown's dilemma is this; although Joanne is intimated by the unnecessary inspection, the criminals and drug dealers which are the real problem in allentown, have no worries.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Micheal for the over view. I do recall that this is an issue you have been involved with. I attended the meeting you held on the issue last year.

Who has warned to not put inspectors in bad moods? This is without a doubt an indication of abuse of power.

Well, now that we have open government record rules, there should be a way to find out what is really going. It should be able to be justified why you have undergone 50 inspections as this should now be available for public inspection.


michael molovinsky said...

bill, i'm proud to say that none of those 50 or so inspections over the past 30 years, were based on a complaint, by a neighbor or the city. all were properties included in a systematic inspection, or inspected under the rental inspection ordinance. sorry for the misunderstanding.

Anonymous said...

MM, waiting to hear more - any idea when we will?

The Banker

michael molovinsky said...

banker, bernie and I met with the woman this morning. the inspection is scheduled for later this month. from firsthand experience i asked her a series of technical questions about her house, without going into detail, the inspection should pose no problems for her. again i do not want to go into any personal details, but her plate is very full with family responsibilities, and it's truly unfortunate she must deal with this imposition by the city. i expect that bernie will give his take on the situation in the next couple of days.

Anonymous said...

"the criminals and drug dealers which are the real problem in allentown, have no worries."

Really MM? If I was selling drugs or had warrants for my arrest I would get real worried if public inspectors walked through my place. If I was a landlord who was renting to unsavory characters or converting homes illegally this would worry me as well.

Everyone says the city needs to do "something". When they do, you cry about what they do.

Anonymous said...

Thanks MM, hope all goes well for her.

The Banker

michael molovinsky said...

anon 6:45, the police can use search warrants against drug suspects, and code inspectors can use the rental inspection ordinance to verify landlords, "doing something" doesn't have to mean submitting homeowners with well maintained property to arbitrary inspections. would you like your home inspected? btw, that's a rhetorical question, don't bother answering.

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

Even I find this totally unnecessary and intrusive, as well as a waste of money (paying inspectors to go inspect owner-occupied homes which have no outstanding complaints against them), and I am generally in favor of big intrusive government. There are so many other, more needed ways in which allentown could be directing its resources (or just saving money).

Larry Heckman said...

Michael Donavan Knows NOTHING about this program?? I find that hard to believe.