Lingering questions remain a day after a vacant warehouse suddenly collapsed in the city.
Alleged Owner of Crumbling Building Speaks Out
Neighbors on Chancellor Street in Southwest Philadelphia say they've been complaining to the city about a vacant house for two years and nothing has been done. NBC10 Investigator Harry Hairston called the city to get answers. (Published Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012)
The 3-story building, which neighbors described as “dangerous,” completely collapsed in the Port Richmond section of the city Wednesday around 11 a.m. The dilapidated building on East Madison Street slammed two cars with bricks and debris. People in several nearby homes were evacuated.
No one was hurt in the collapse. Evacuees were allowed to return to their homes three and a half hours after the collapse. An inspection by Licenses and Inspection deemed the homes safe.
Property owners owed more than $30K in back taxes according to the record we pulled from the City of Philadelphia's database. Those tax records list the property owner as Refurbish-It, Inc.
Although neighbors complained openly to us today about the condition of the building, when we called Licenses and Inspection they told us that in the past ten years, not one person complained about the building. They also told us that they cited the property owners back in April, when the huge, vacant warehouse fire in Kensington prompted L&I to inspect other properties in the area, including this one. At that time, they cited the owners for fire code violations, unsafe structure, maintenance issues and for not being licensed as a vacant structure. L&I's spokeswoman tells NBC10 they cited the property owners again 30 days later when the owners didn't take any action. When the building crumbled, L&I was going through the process of getting a court order that would have allowed the city to clean up the property and bill the owner.
On Thursday, the NBC10 Investigators tried to get more answers. We tracked down George Capewell, the President and Treasurer of Refurbish-It, according to city records. When confronted by our cameras however he told a different story.
“It aint my warehouse,” said Capewell. “The city took it over and sold it at a Sheriff’s sale.”
That sheriff’s sale fell through back in March however. The Sheriff’s Department tells NBC10 Capewell still owns the property. L&I also claimed they’ve sent several violations to Capewell’s home with the most severe violation deeming the property an unsafe structure. Capewell claims he never received the violations however.
“I’ve never seen them,” said Capewell. “The city says a lot of things that don’t happen.”
The city states it last inspected the property three weeks ago but did not believe the building would shift and collapse as quickly as it did. City officials say the building was not scheduled to be re-inspected any time soon. They also say they will take Capewell to court and force him to pay for cleanup and demolition.