Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County in case of Flora Belle Coleman v. Board of Licenses and Inspections Review, No. 4281 September Term, 1982.
David Giles, with him, Geoffry Walsh, for appellant.
No appearance for appellee.
Judges Rogers, Craig and Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Rogers.
This is an appeal by a tenant from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County affirming a decision of the Philadelphia Board of License and Inspection Review (board) which sustained the removal of the administrative designation "Unfit for Human Habitation" from the premises located at 1903 Kimball Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The appellant, Flora Belle Coleman, has been a tenant of the single family house at 1903 Kimball Street since 1970. The property was certified unfit for human habitation on June 4, 1981 following an inspection conducted by the Department of Licenses and Inspections of the City of Philadelphia (L & I), on which certification it was reported that the property was without hot water, a violation of the Philadelphia Housing Code. This violation was reported as L & I Account No. 161631. A subsequent inspection conducted by L & I on November 20, 1981 established that the property's hot water problem had been corrected and, as a consequence, L & I lifted the unfit designation.
Ms. Coleman challenges L & I's removal of the unfit designation on the ground that other outstanding violations against the property existed which, under L & I's standards and policies, precluded removal of the designation.
Unfit designations are issued by local agencies pursuant to the Pennsylvania Rent Withholding Act (Act), Act of January 24, 1966, P.L. (1965) 1534, as amended, 35 P.S. § 1700-1, which requires the escrow of rents from dwellings that a local agency has declared unfit for human habitation. Implicit in the terms of this Act is that local agencies must establish their own standards for determining whether a dwelling is unfit and when it ceases to be unfit. The Act further provides that rents escrowed by a tenant for a period of six months shall be returned to the tenant if the unfit designation remains at the end of six months. One effect of L & I's removal of the unfit designation from the Kimball Street property was to disallow the appellant's recovery of those rents she paid into an escrow account prior to November 20, 1981.
At the hearing conducted on September 2, 1982, the board refused to admit evidence regarding any conditions of the property other than the lack of hot water (Account No. 161631) and the subsequent correction of that problem on the ground that such other evidence is irrelevant. The board reasoned that:
[J]acket 161631 containing the lack of hot water violation, was the jacket which prompted and precipitated the "unfit" designation and when that violation was complied, the "unfit" designation was lifted, without consulting any other open violation files on the property. The Board feels that by ...