Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of In Re: The Matter of Rent Withholding for the Property at 5415 Claybourne Street, Pittsburgh, Pa., Frank J. Ligons, 1225 Resaca Street, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15212, No. SA 91 of 1974.
Wayne Gerhold, with him David A. Brakoniecki, Special Assistant County Solicitor, and Stephen A. Zappala, County Solicitor, for appellant.
John F. Ploeger, with him Truel & Ploeger, for appellee.
Michael A. Donadee and Katherine L. Hagg, as amicus curiae.
Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer and Mencer, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Kramer.
This is an appeal filed by Allegheny County and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) from
an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County dated April 24, 1974, reversing an adjudication of ACHD and directing certain withheld rent to be returned to Frank J. Ligons (Ligons).
On and before May 16, 1973, Ligons owned a building located at 5415 Claybourne Street in the City of Pittsburgh. The building was inhabited by a tenant (Mike Burroughs) under an oral lease at a monthly rental of $175. On May 16, 1973, Mrs. Josephine Davis (Davis), a health inspector for ACHD, inspected the building and found numerous violations of the ACHD Rules and Regulations. On May 22, 1973, ACHD certified the building as unfit for human inhabitation and qualified it for rent withholding pursuant to the Rent Withholding Act, Act of January 24, 1966, P.L. (1965) 1534, as amended, 35 P.S. § 1700-1 (Supp. 1974-1975). The record is not clear concerning when notice of this certification was mailed, but it is clear that the notification was sent to Robert B. Truel, Esq. (Truel), an attorney practicing law in Allegheny County. The notification was sent to Truel because a lady (who was not identified for the record) present on the premises at the time of the May 16, 1973, inspection told Davis that Truel collected the rents. A second inspection was made on May 30, 1973, and another notice was sent to Truel. On July 24, 1973, Davis inspected the building and determined that it was unoccupied.*fn1 Another inspection was made on August 3, 1973, but this inspection involved only the building's exterior. After this inspection ACHD learned that the owner of the property was Ligons and therefore, on August 17, 1973, notice was sent to Ligons which he received on August 22, 1973. Further inspections were made on September 12 and October 5 of 1973, which revealed that the structure was still unoccupied. Finally another inspection was
made on November 20, 1973, which disclosed that the building had been razed.
As a result of the ACHD determination made in May of 1973, the rent for the months of May and June 1973, in the total amount of $350, was paid into an escrow account under the provisions of the Rent Withholding Law, 35 P.S. § 1700-1 (Supp. 1974-1975). On December 5, 1973, ACHD made a determination that the withheld rent should be returned to the tenant, and on December 18, 1973, Ligons received notice of that determination. Ligons requested a hearing before ACHD, which was granted. In its adjudication, the ACHD determined that the withheld rent should be returned to the tenant. Pursuant to the Local Agency Law, Act of December 2, 1968, P.L. 1133, as amended, 53 P.S. § 11301 et seq., Ligons filed an appeal which was heard de novo before the court below. After hearing, the lower court entered an order which reversed the adjudication of ACHD and ordered the withheld rent to be returned to ...