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APPEAL GENNIE NEWLAND (10/08/76)

decided: October 8, 1976.

IN RE: APPEAL OF GENNIE NEWLAND, APPELLANT, FROM A DECISION OF THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT. GENNIE NEWLAND, APPELLANT


Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of In Re: Appeal of Gennie Newland from a Decision of the Allegheny County Health Department, No. S.A. 220 of 1975.

COUNSEL

Jere Krakoff, for appellant.

Wayne D. Gerhold, Special Assistant County Solicitor, with him Alexander J. Jaffurs, County Solicitor, for appellee.

Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 520]

This is an appeal from a final order and opinion of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County dismissing the appeal of Gennie Newland (appellant) from an adjudication of the Allegheny County Health Department (Department). The Department had suspended the running of the six-month period during which the appellant's landlord had been required to restore her dwelling to a habitable condition.

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 521]

On July 8, 1974, the Department conducted an inspection of the appellant's dwelling which disclosed a number of violations of the Department's Health Code. The premises were certified as unfit for human habitation and the appellant began depositing her rent into an escrow account pursuant to the provisions of the Rent Withholding Act (Act),*fn1 35 P.S. ยง 1700-1 which provides that, upon the certification of a leased dwelling as unfit for human habitation, the tenant shall deposit the rent into an escrow account for a six-month period during which the landlord is to restore the premises to a habitable condition. It further provides that the landlord is entitled to recover the funds in escrow only upon the certification of the premises as fit for human habitation, and if, at the end of the six-month period allowed, he has failed to make the necessary repairs, the deposited rent payments are to be returned to the tenant.

In the instant case, the six-month period was due to expire on January 11, 1975. In November of 1974, however, Department officials reinspected the dwelling and, after examining the violations listed in the July inspection report and finding them to be satisfactorily abated, certified it as fit for human habitation. Notice of the certification was immediately sent to the landlord. The appellant, however, was not notified of the certification until January 22, 1975, whereupon she entered an appeal with the Department, contending that the November certification was erroneous and that she was entitled to recover the funds in escrow by virtue of the running of the six-month period.

For a determination of this appeal, a hearing was convened by the Department on February 13, 1975 and, on February 18, 1975, the Hearing Officer conducted

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 522]

    an inspection of the dwelling. He concluded that the landlord's attempts to restore the premises to a habitable condition were inadequate and that the violations had not been abated, and the November certification was therefore adjudged to be improper. Rather than direct payment of the escrow funds to the appellant, however, the Hearing Officer granted the landlord 52 days (the number of days remaining in the withholding period at the time when the erroneous certification was made) to make the proper repairs. The appellant then appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County where, after a de novo hearing, the Department's decision was affirmed.*fn2

On appeal to this Court, the appellant argues, in essence, that where as here the landlord has reason to know that his repair work is inadequate and that the defects have not in fact been abated, his reliance on an improper certification is not in good faith and the Department may not then suspend the running of the six-month rent withholding period. Our scope of review in such an appeal, brought pursuant to the Local Agency Law*fn3 and when the lower court has held a de novo hearing, is limited to determining whether or not the ...


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