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KEYSTONE COMMERCIAL PROPERTIES v. CITY PITTSBURGH (01/16/75)

decided: January 16, 1975.

KEYSTONE COMMERCIAL PROPERTIES, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF PITTSBURGH, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of Keystone Commercial Properties, Inc., a Pennsylvania corporation, v. City of Pittsburgh, No. 1757 January Term, 1973A.

COUNSEL

Gerald S. Lesher, with him Baskin, Boreman, Wilner, Sachs, Gondelman & Craig, for appellant.

Eugene B. Strassburger, III, with him Thomas S. White, Assistant City Solicitor, and Ralph Lynch, Jr., City Solicitor, for appellee.

Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer and Mencer, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Crumlish

[ 17 Pa. Commw. Page 55]

This is an appeal from a Decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County which dismissed a complaint in equity. Keystone Commercial Properties, Inc. (Appellant) instituted this equity action to recover the market value of a building razed by the Appellee City of Pittsburgh (City) following an alleged breach of statute by the City in the course of demolition.

The City posted a notice of condemnation on June 4, 1970, on a vacant and open building located at 1229 Fifth Avenue. The condemnation notice enumerated the causative conditions: (1) Walls out of plumb, brick missing in front and rear walls; (2) Window frames and sashes rotted, glass broken out; (3) Roof sagging; (4) Floors out of level; (5) Interior walls out of plumb, plaster loose, falling off; (6) Building open, vandalized, unfit and unsafe for occupancy, constituting a serious hazard in the immediate area and a danger to the general welfare and the public; and (7) Violation Sec. 210-A(d) of Ordinance No. 300-1947. Notification of the condemnation action together with a copy of the appropriate regulations pertaining to the temporary sealing of openings in unguarded and vacant buildings was sent to the owners of record, Louis and Bessie Caplan, c/o Franklin Federal Savings and Loan Association. Previously, the City had advised the owners by letter dated December 12, 1969, that rubbish and debris had accumulated inside and outside of the building and that the building itself was in objectionable disrepair.

[ 17 Pa. Commw. Page 56]

A follow-up letter to the City's condemnation notice was sent to the owners on March 12, 1971, informing them that preparations were underway to demolish the building since the conditions related in the condemnation notice had not been improved. In between the original condemnation posting of June 4, 1970, and the follow-up notice of March 12, 1971, Appellant entered into an agreement of sale to purchase the building.

Appellant subsequently obtained a building construction permit from the City to seal the exterior openings of the premises. These temporary repairs were completed by August 24, 1971, but permanent repairs were never undertaken. Numerous complaints about the property were received by the City from area residents, and in October of 1972, a City Inspector found the rear door open, windows broken, and wine bottles, garbage and other debris in the building. The City reposted the building with a condemnation notice on October 16, 1972, ascribing its action to the conditions enumerated in the prior notice. On October 26, 1972, the City awarded a contractor the demolition job which commenced shortly thereafter. Appellant first knew that its building was coming down on November 3, 1972.

Our scope of review in equity matters is limited. As we wrote in Groff v. The Borough of Sellersville, 12 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 315, 317, 314 A.2d 328, 330 (1974), "[t]he findings of fact of the chancellor will be reversed only where there has been a manifest or clear error or a clear abuse of discretion. The chancellor's decision will stand if there exists sufficient evidence to justify the findings and logically sound, reasonable inferences and conclusions derived therefrom." The issue before us, therefore, is to determine whether the chancellor committed manifest error in determining that the City had complied with the Act of May 13, 1915, P.L. 297, as amended, 53 P.S. § 25081 et seq., insofar as it related to

[ 17 Pa. Commw. Page 57]

    fire prevention in second class cities, when it commenced ...


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