Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the case of J. Pivirotto v. City of Pittsburgh, No. BD 80-14421.
John George Shorall, II, Assistant City Solicitor, with him, D. R. Pellegrini, City Solicitor, for appellant.
Stephen Israel, with him, Marianna E. Specter, for appellee.
Judges Craig and Palladino, and Senior Judge Kalish, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig.
[ 93 Pa. Commw. Page 564]
The City of Pittsburgh appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County which held the city liable for demolishing a house without providing notice to the appellee, James Pivirotto, who had purchased the house fourteen months earlier, at a city treasurer's sale of the premises on account of real estate tax delinquency.
As a general proposition, a municipality must, before destroying a building, give an owner sufficient notice, a hearing and ample opportunity to demolish the building himself or to do what suffices to make it safe and healthful for use and occupancy. 7 E. McQuillin, Municipal Corporations § 24.561 (3d rev. ed. 1981). See City of Pittsburgh v. Kronzek, 2 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 660, 280 A.2d 488 (1971).
In the Commonwealth, both state law and local ordinance address the notice procedure.
The Fire Prevention Law for Cities of the Second Class requires that when the city issues a condemnation order, the city must serve the owner by "pasting a copy or copies in a conspicuous place on the building referred to in such order, and by prepaid mailing of a copy thereof, on the same day to the owner or owners." Section 3 of the Act of May 13, 1915, P.L. 297, 53 P.S. § 25094.
The Building Title of the Pittsburgh Code of Ordinances directs:
The Supervisor shall prepare a notice of condemnation describing the unsafe conditions which have caused the building or structure to become an unsafe or otherwise dangerous building and [order] the abatement of such conditions.
[ 93 Pa. Commw. Page 565]
. . . Such notice of condemnation shall be signed by the Superintendent and shall be sent to the owner or the owner's agent by certified registered mail or served personally on such owner or agent.
Pittsburgh Code § 1007.18(a).*fn1
Because neither the statute nor the ordinance defines the term "owner," this appeal raises two related questions:
(1) At what point does the purchaser of property at a treasurer's tax sale become the 'owner' entitled to notice from the city that the property has been condemned and will be demolished?
(2) Has the city's condemnation office, in attempting to ascertain the property owner for the purpose of sending notice of condemnation, satisfied due process by making its final title search on the day before bids for demolition are solicited, which here was twenty-two days before demolition began?
The need to resolve these questions*fn2 arises because of the intersecting functions of two city agencies. In brief, the history is as follows:
[ 93 Pa. Commw. Page 566]
Sept. 8, 1976: Code enforcement officers of the Bureau of Building Inspection cited the dwelling at 5741 Pierce Street for building code violations, and mailed notice to then record owners, Motan and Warburton.
Sept. 12, 1977: Appellee Pivirotto purchased the property at the city treasurer's sale.*fn3
May 18, 1978: The condemnation office of the Bureau of Building Inspection inspected the property, cited it for code violations, posted a condemnation notice*fn4 on the front door, and mailed a notice only to the record owners, Motan and Warburton.
[ 93 Pa. Commw. Page 567]
Oct. 2-4, 1978: The condemnation office performed a primary inspection on the property, ascertaining that since the posting for condemnation, no work had been performed to remedy the unsafe condition. The condemnation office then sent a "courtesy letter" to the same record owners, stating that bids will be solicited ...