Vacant Properties: Hunting Down the Owners

The Department of Licenses and Inspections has a lot on its hands, trying to track down the owners of 25,000 vacant properties in Philadelphia. But as NBC10's Harry Hairston reveals, sending notices to a woman who's been dead more than ten years doesn't help the cause. (Published Tuesday, March 10, 2015)

The City of Philadelphia is home to the Liberty Bell, the Rocky steps and 25,000 vacant properties.

Demolition and renovation are two ways the city takes care of that blight and in both cases it means finding or at least attempting to find the rightful owner. The effort can be exhaustive and leaves neighbors like Christopher Plaugic living amid properties which are eyesores at the very basic level, pocketbook problems because they bring down property values and safety threats when they get so run down they crumble or collapse.

"I thought it would have been demolished by now to be honest with you," said Plaugic who lives across the street in South Philly from two vacant properties at 415 and 417 Manton Street — where a tree is growing out of one home.

The city posted notices for the owner to renovate or demolish the homes last April. When nothing happened, more letters were sent. Eight months later, in January, the city tried to take the owner to court, but the case was thrown out because no one could find her.

NBC10's Harry Hairston figured out why after digging through court records and other documents.

Adeline Galloway died in 2003.

Licenses and Inspections [L & I] refused to comment on why it continues to send notices to a dead woman, but the mayor's office told us by email: "City attorneys are engaged in an investigation of the owners of the properties. So, the [court] case has not yet been filed."

Philadelphia Controller Alan Butkovitz questions why the city allows the two homes on Manton Street — and other vacant properties — to remain standing.

"If this causes any infestation of rats or cockroaches it can lead into this house [next door] so it's in general a health concern," Butkovitz said.

Records from the Register of Wills shows Galloway's son is the executor of her estate although his information wasn't listed on any of the code violations or tax notices.

When we reached him, Galloway son told us the family is aware of safety concerns at the properties and plans to address them. According to the latest notice from L & I, the family has until late next week to respond to the city's latest notice.