The Franklin Township board of trustees now has more leverage when it comes to dealing with property owners neglecting their buildings and allowing them to fall into disrepair.
In fact, it is leverage they may put to use after speaking with First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Nick Soulas at their Oct. 14 meeting.
“The discussion that I wanted to have with you was to talk about the rights of the township with respect to handling these matters,” Soulas said, “Specifically, the ability of the township to go onto the property and remedy.”
According to the board of trustees, the township has a number of residential properties on the brink of collapse, overflowing with junk and debris, creating neighborhood blights and posing as possible fire hazards.
“There are a couple ways we can handle it – there’s building department action that can be brought, there’s a board of health action that can be brought – those are very time consuming actions,” Soulas said.
Soulas added that those options remain formal processes, involving filing a complaint in Environmental Court. Furthermore, that legal process includes the court issuing a summons to the property owner with 28 days to answer, in which a hearing date is set.
Overall, that courtroom process could possibly become stretched over months, but according to Soulas, the township has ability to circumvent and quicken the process in certain situations.
“Some townships have actually utilized it. Mifflin Township is going through this, I believe Prairie Township has done this before as well,” Soulas said.
In contrast to a long court preceding, the township also has the option of certifying a structure as being on the brink of collapse or beyond repair through the Board of Health, Building Department, or through the fire chief. If enacted, the entire process could take no more than 30 days to complete – possibly as soon as two weeks if it were a dire emergency.
“It’s an internal process for the township; it does not have to involve the court system. It’s perfectly legitimate, it’s perfectly constitutional, but it’s a lot faster," Soulas said.
This action works similar to House Bill 50 concerning grass cutting, whereas if a resident’s lawn exceeds 12 inches they are formally sent notice to take action. When or if the resident does not remedy the problem, the township cuts their lawn for them and places the costs on their tax duplicate.
“You can go out, clean up the property, tear the structure down, then put the cost on the tax duplicate,” Soulas said.