City makes property violations database

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City makes property violations database

By Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

By Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

By Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

By Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

By Elizabeth Lepro / Assistant News Editor

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Oakland residents wondering what happens after they filed a neighborhood complaint can now see the results of their community policing.

By visiting the city’s Permits, Licenses and Inspections Department homepage, residents can check specific addresses for property violations, which include building and zoning code violations. Along with the City’s Innovation and Performance Department, the PLI launched an online property violation database Tuesday morning, Nov. 17, that will allow users to see violations on properties around Pittsburgh.

Enter an address or street name into the database’s search bar and a list of every violation inspectors have given properties on that street since Oct. 15, 2015, will appear.

The violations listed on the site do not yet include citations, as in violations that have gone to court, according to Julianna Reiland, PLI’s government and public relations liaison.

According to Geof Becker, the co-chair of Oakland’s code enforcement project called Oakwatch, the violation database is a way for citizens to see what’s become of their 311 calls.

The 311 system takes non-emergency calls about situations like trash accumulation on curbs. Reiland said that when inspectors get 311 complaints, they visit the concerned property to determine whether the call amounts to an actual violation.

“If there are 311 calls and there isn’t a violation, it won’t show up on the site,” Reiland said.
The system allows Pittsburgh residents to pinpoint troublesome properties and activities they see in their communities.

“311 [complaints] are like nerve endings for the city,” Becker said, “[The city] can feel the pain and the person who felt that pain can go see how the pain is taken care of.”

The database shows these “pain points,” in the form of problem properties, but doesn’t include the landlords who own those apartments or houses.

Several landlords on Wednesday, like Ron Levick who owns the apartments above the IGA on Forbes Avenue, said they were happy to see the database and wouldn’t even mind if their names were attached.

“Those of us who have no violations don’t have a problem with it,” Levick said.

Julie Nydes, who rents the property she owns in Oakland and Scott Township, said she’s glad Pittsburgh is switching from paper-based to digital record keeping.

“It’s better than the cumbersome way they were doing things,” Nydes said. “I think [the database] would be good for businesses because I can’t see anything wrong with fixing something that needs to be fixed.”

Once a landlord or tenant fixes a violation, the website will say “abated,” according to Reiland.

Kevin Styles, the director of Off-Campus Living at Pitt, said the database could help students who are apartment and house hunting in Oakland, but that other factors play into the search.

“A lot of people are looking for the database or site that will have all the answers,” Styles said. “[The site] is a great tool, but it’s not the end all that’s going to answer every question.”

Patrick Corelli, a Pitt senior and the Student Government Board’s governmental relations chair, said the website would be a useful tool for students moving off campus.

“It might just be a good idea to do a cursory check [of the database],” Corelli said.

Individual 311 complaints and violations for things like building a deck without a permit aren’t going to change Oakland overnight, but Becker said 311 complaints result in incremental improvement.

“Hopefully that’s something that’s going to make people a lot more interested in taking an active role in their neighborhood,” Becker said. “With constant improvement, eventually you see real change.”

Dale Shoemaker contributed reporting. 

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