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BERRIOS v. CITY OF LANCASTER

July 14, 1992

PABLO BERRIOS, et al., Plaintiff
v.
THE CITY OF LANCASTER, et al., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: E. MAC TROUTMAN

 Plaintiffs were forced to vacate their rented housing after the defendants declared the properties unfit for human habitation. Plaintiffs now seek, in their current motion for summary judgment, to have the defendants compensate them for (1) the Fifth Amendment "taking" of their entire property interest, i.e., the leasehold, and (2) relocation benefits as allowed under the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 ("Development Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 5301 et seq. The essential issues are (a) whether plaintiffs' had an "investment backed expectation" in continued possession of an uninhabitable leasehold, and (b) whether plaintiffs are entitled to relocation benefits when the housing code enforcement activities of the defendants results in plaintiffs' displacement. For the reasons which follow, we conclude that plaintiffs are not entitled to either "taking" compensation or relocation costs.

 I. BACKGROUND.

 The facts are essentially undisputed. Since defendants have not seriously argued and pointed to facts to the contrary, we will accept plaintiffs' Statement of Facts (Doc. #21) to the extent they address the issues and summarize therefrom. *fn1"

 Plaintiffs are eight low income tenants who resided in the City of Lancaster. As part of its housing code enforcement program, the defendants inspected and eventually condemned the properties in which the plaintiffs lived. The salaries of the housing inspectors were paid, in full or in part, by federal funds, i.e., Community Development Block Grants. The defendants interest in applying its code enforcement actions is to secure the public welfare, health and safety by seeking to eliminate blighted and uninhabitable housing, conditions which are adverse to the public well being. There is no question that the defendants activities in this area are legal and proper. The only question is whether any compensation is due because of the effects the defendants activities had on plaintiffs' property interests. A description of the details of each plaintiff's property housing interest follows.

 1. Pablo Berrios: Berrios lived on the second floor above a garage, rented from Russell Bair under a written lease, from October 1989, until he and his family vacated about June 15, 1990. The lease agreement called for payment of $ 250 per month. On May 29, 1990, after an inspection of the property, the defendants issued a Notice of Violation of Housing Code and a Notice of Condemnation and advised both the owner and Berrios that the property was unfit for human habitation and that Berrios would have to vacate within seven days.

 2. Linda Almond: Almond, her three children, grandson, brother and wife, lived in a two bedroom house under an oral lease with the landlord, Angellini and Groff, Inc., and her brother, from February 1990 until November 1990, when she was forced to move. The oral lease agreement called for payment of $ 75, and later $ 20, per week to her brother. After an inspection of the property, the defendants issued a Notice of Violation of Housing Code on July 20, 1989. Since the cited conditions were not corrected, the defendants issued a Notice of Condemnation on June 13, 1990, and informed the owner and Almond that the property was unfit for human habitation and that Almond would have to vacate within sixty days.

 3. Janie Good: Janie Good and her son, and later her two daughters, lived in a house rented from Franklin Swift, who also lived in the house, under an oral lease, from November 1989 to December 1990. Under the agreement, Janie Good contributed to payment of the household bills. After an inspection, defendants issued a Notice of Violation of Housing Code on February 13, 1989. Since the cited conditions were not corrected, the defendants issued a Notice of Condemnation on June 13, 1990, and advised the owner and Janie Good that the property was unfit for human habitation and Janie Good would have to vacate within sixty days.

 4. Marion Good: Marion Good, the mother of Janie Good, lived in the same property as her daughter under an oral lease and payment of $ 120 per month. She resided there from November 1989 until July 1990. Notices of Violation of Housing Code and of Condemnation were issued in the same manner as described as affecting Marion Good's daughter, Janie. Marion Good moved into the home of Clair and Edna Wright, which property was also subsequently condemned, forcing Marion Good to move a second time.

 6. Edna Wright: Edna Wright rented the same house on the same terms as Clair Wright. The process leading to her vacating the premises is also the same.

 7. Charles Green: Green lived in a house, rented from William McMichael under an oral agreement, from 1973 until October, 1990. Green made rental payments of $ 110 per month. After an inspection, the defendants issued a Notice of Violation of Housing Code on January 25, 1989. Since the cited conditions were not rectified, the defendants issued a Notice of Condemnation on June 13, 1990, and informed the owner and Charles Green that the property was unfit for human habitation and that Charles Green would have to vacate within sixty days.

 8. Estelle Aponte: Aponte, her boyfriend, and her daughter, lived in a house, rented from William McMichael under an oral lease, from August 1989 until October 1990. The agreement called for payment of $ 185 per month. After an inspection, the defendants issued a Notice of Violation of Housing Code on July 20, 1989. Since the cited conditions were not corrected, the defendants issued a Notice of Condemnation on June 13, 1990, and advised the owner and Aponte that the property was unfit for human habitation and that Aponte would have to vacate within sixty days.

 The reasons generally cited by the housing inspectors for the condemnation included, inter alia, rotting wood and rotting or missing floorboards, unsafe electrical wiring, no heating system, broken sewer lines, and no kitchen or bathroom plumbing and water and sewer hookups. *fn2" Clearly, the condition of the properties was uninhabitable, and the landlords, or slumlords, did not take any action to correct or alleviate this awful situation.

 After being informed that they must vacate their leased properties, the plaintiffs attempted to secure new housing. Despite their efforts, adequate housing was not to be found due to their unfortunate financial condition. The defendants, meanwhile, placed the plaintiffs at the top of the waiting list for a Section 8 Certificate which provides housing assistance. With such help, the plaintiffs eventually obtained housing. During the entire process, however, from moving to looking for new housing to eventually securing new housing, the plaintiffs incurred certain losses, including, inter alia, the cost of renting moving trucks and/or hiring moving helpers, payment of new ...


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