Ordinance Barring Temple Students From Specific Areas Still Drawing Ire From Lawyers, Landlords

By Randy Lobasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Feb. 22, 2012

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A complaint filed by landlords Michael, Andrea, Michelle and Kimberly Parkhill in late 2008 and reviewed by PW noted that because of the Commission’s vote against the ordinance, and Council’s lack of prior knowledge of that recommendation, “City Council’s adoption action of the Overlay is a nullity, as is the Overlay itself, because the City’s Home Rule Charter limits the ability of City Council to adopt legislation on zoning and various other real estate-related issues in the absence of a recommendation.”

“But no one questioned it,” says another landlord in the area, who asked not to be identified.

Kramer says the entire process was quick. “Somehow [the bill] got approved and it came into law and the next thing you know we were dealing with it,” he remembers.

Section 2-307 of the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, which is the rule in question, reads, “The Council shall not enact any bill which shall in any manner affect any zoning ordinance, the Physical Development Plan of the City, plans of streets and revisions of such plans, and land subdivision plans or any bill which would authorize the acquisition or sale of City real estate without first receiving the recommendations thereon through the Mayor of the City Planning Commission.”

“It was one of those things where, you don’t have to figure out how it passed,” says a landlord who owns property in the area. “[Former Mayor John Street] lives in the neighborhood. The neighbors complained to him, he was the mayor, he got it done.”

Even though the ordinance was at first not enforced (because doing so would have required the government to invade people’s privacy, which is illegal), the situation quickly deteriorated. And that’s where it gets tricky.

At the start of the fall 2008 semester, the Department of Licenses & Inspections began doing more inspections, often knocking at student-occupied houses in the area with claims of inspecting smoke and carbon dioxide detectors. Many tenants living in the area received a letter from L&I in early October, saying if the owner of his/her property is cited for a violation, the “property may be closed and you will be asked to vacate and find another place to live.”

Some landlords gave their tenants strict orders: Don’t let L&I in; tell them you’re not students; disguise some beds to look like couches. One owner even put his student-tenants on the house’s deed for two years to get around the “not owner-occupied” language.

One landlord who spoke to PW said his tenants didn’t let L&I in the house, but that the city deemed his property student housing anyway. “And when I said, ‘How did you come to that conclusion?,’ she said, ‘I saw books in the house,’” when tenants opened the door a crack.

“They essentially banned outright, persons based on membership of a class,” Stouffer opines, “and they rely on private citizens to report to L&I. The law is based on citizens reporting on each other. It discriminates between owners and renters.”

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Comments 1 - 10 of 10
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1. Former Philly Resident said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 09:54AM

“I guess age discrimination is okay in the once-great City of Philadelphia. Wouldn't want young adults moving into a dead North Philly neighborhood and moving into any of the abandoned housing stock, after all.

Much better to have North Philly's typical array of crumbling, bombed-out shells with boarded up doors and windows than "a characterless cluster of cars and boardinghouses with concrete front lawns" with actual people living in them, right?”

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2. Anonymous said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:28AM

“What I a great idea! Let's ban a diverse group of students from all over PA from an area full of crumbling buildings peppered with drug dealers and abandoned lots. If "North Central" is afraid of their neighborhood falling apart and becoming worse off, they should be welcoming students, because the people who are own buildings there now simply abandon them so they become occupied by squatters, dealers, and addicts. I'm sorry, but urban blight in N. Philly is not caused by students, it's caused by everyone else.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 11:15AM

“I guess the residents of this area of North Philly would rather deal with violent crime and drug dealers. As stated above, the students are not responsible for the way the neighborhood looks.

But if that's the way the residents want it then let them live in a crime infested area and in their own squalor.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 11:42AM

“I wrote post 3. In response to 4. I agree, but I don't live too far from the area that they're talking about in the article. It seems to be a good idea to let them live in their squalor, but my neighborhood has to deal with all of these people coming down and causing problems every day. It's not too hard for criminals to walk 10 blocks south and rob cars and vandalize my neighborhood. I'd rather see these idiotic policies fixed so that the area around Temple can become nicer and safer with students leading the charge. Blight and crime in N. Philly won't be contained in N. Philly until we all work together to improve these areas or build a fence down Girard Ave. which clearly won't happen.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 12:34PM

“Your understanding of unconstitutionality needs to be a little more refined before you throw around the term, sir.

Also, were you too lazy to interview anyone but landlords and their lawyer so as to better understand the legal argument in support of the bill?”

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6. Anonymous said... on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:54PM

“Before you comment on this law you need to know something about Yorktown. It is not abandoned, squalid, or full of vacancies. It is a vibrant, family filled community that deserves the same protection from student flop houses that Lower Merion, Villanova and other White communities insist on.”

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7. pollo diablo said... on Feb 23, 2012 at 09:39AM

“living next to college housing is a nightmare. however, i find it odiously offensive that a government agency can get away with being able to go to home under the false pretense of checking smoke detectors, look through a door, make a determination as to whats going on in said house, report back to a higher authority, and ultimately remove occupants from a dwelling. holy crap. i thought i read about something called abuse of powers and unresonable searches somewhere before. if you find anything constitutional about how philadelphia is handling this, from top to bottom, you should be hung from some gallows in front of the whole town. his name is john street, not king john street for fucks sake. the shit smeared banner of democracy flies proudly over north philly i guess. give me liberty or give me death...”

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8. Anonymous said... on Feb 23, 2012 at 08:34PM

“It's the 14th amendment to the constitution, not article 1 section 14.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Feb 28, 2012 at 11:26PM

“^^^Good lord, I didn't even notice that error. Even more indefensible.”

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10. Temple student said... on Mar 6, 2012 at 10:44AM

“Let's face it: the long-time residents simply don't want Temple students living around them. This policy seems "discriminatory" on a superficial level, considering I've seen flyers up in this neighborhood that are explicitly anti-student housing. If anything, the ones being discriminated here are the students, but even that's an outlandish claim; there're too many students pouring into north Philly as it is (since the school lets in anyone and everyone). Only rarely do students and the community get along, so I think it's just best to put a limit on the growing animosity between them.”


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