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City of Williamsport Bureau of Codes v. DeRaffele

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

September 6, 2017

City of Williamsport Bureau of Codes
v.
John DeRaffele, Appellant

          Submitted: March 3, 2017

          BEFORE: HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge, HONORABLE JOSEPH M. COSGROVE, Judge.

          OPINION

          P. KEVIN BROBSON, JUDGE.

         John DeRaffele (DeRaffele) appeals, pro se, from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County (trial court). Following de novo hearings, the trial court determined that DeRaffele had violated Section 108.5 of the 2015 International Property Maintenance Code (2015 Maintenance Code), as purportedly adopted by the City of Williamsport (Williamsport). The trial court ordered DeRaffele to pay the costs of the prosecution and a fine previously imposed by a Magisterial District Judge. We now reverse the order of the trial court.[1]

         For purposes of the instant appeal, the following facts are not disputed. On July 23, 2015, the Williamsport Bureau of Codes received an anonymous complaint regarding the residence at 814 Hepburn Street (the Residence) in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. According to the complaint, a woman and her children were living at the Residence without any working utilities. The anonymous source further indicated that the children were "going outside to go to the bathroom." (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 132a.)

         Bureau of Codes Enforcement Officer Thomas Evansky (Evansky) investigated the Residence on July 27, 2015, and observed that the Residence had water but no electricity. Evansky posted notice onto the Residence, reflecting its condemnation and that any "person who removes the placard or occupies these premises shall be liable, if convicted, to the penalties provided by the law." (Trial Ct. Op. at 1.) Evansky also mailed a notice of condemnation to DeRaffele. (Supplemental Reproduced Record (Supp. R.R.) at 14b-15b.) The mailed notice cited DeRaffele for violation of Section 108.1.3 of the 2015 Maintenance Code, and provided the following under a "REQUIRED ACTION" portion of the notice:

108.1.3 Structure Unfit for Human Use and Occupancy. A structure is unfit for human occupancy whenever the code official finds that such structure is unsafe, unlawful or, because of the degree to which the structure is in disrepair or lacks maintenance, is unsanitary, vermin or rat infested, contains filth and contamination, or lacks ventilation, illumination, sanitary or heating facilities or other essential equipment required by this code, or because the location of the structure constitutes a hazard to the occupants of the structure or to the public.
814- NO ELECTRICITY - STRUCTURE TO REMAIN UNOCCUPIED UNTIL ALL PROPERTY AND A SATISFACTORY INSPECTION HAS BEEN COMPLETED BY THE BUREAU OF CODES.

(Id.) The notice mailed to DeRaffele also indicated that the "DATE REQUIRED, " or deadline for compliance, was July 27, 2015, the same day that Evansky investigated the Residence.[2]

         The next day, on July 28, 2015, DeRaffele's tenant restored the electricity at the Residence. Robert Setzler (Setzler), on behalf of DeRaffele, called the Bureau of Codes to notify the Bureau of the change. Setzler called Evansky, who did not answer, so Setzler left Evansky a message. Additionally, Setzler spoke with Ed Kiessling (Kiessling) at the Bureau of Codes and notified him that the tenant restored the electricity.

         Evansky returned to the Residence on September 18, 2015, not to re-inspect the premises but because "there was a complaint that the owner [(DeRaffele)] has allowed occupancy." (R.R. at 137a.) Evansky noticed that the electricity was on and that the placard had been removed. Evansky also noticed that new tenants occupied the Residence and, after obtaining a copy of the new tenants' lease, learned that the new tenants began their tenancy on September 1, 2015. Evansky cited DeRaffele for permitting tenants to occupy a condemned and placarded structure in violation of Section 108.5 of the Maintenance Code, which provides:

108.5 Prohibited occupancy. Any occupied structure condemned and placarded by the code official shall be vacated as ordered by the code official. Any person who shall occupy a placarded premises or shall operate placarded equipment, and any owner, owner's authorized agent or person responsible for the premises who shall let anyone occupy a placarded premises or operate placarded equipment shall be liable for the penalties provided by this code.

         (Emphasis omitted.)

         On November 30, 2015, a Magisterial District Judge convicted DeRaffele of a violation of Section 108.5 of the Maintenance Code. DeRaffele appealed to the trial court, which conducted evidentiary hearings. DeRaffele took the position that he cured the condemnation because his tenant restored electricity approximately 12 hours after the condemnation took place. Additionally, he argued that Williamsport never properly adopted the 2015 Maintenance Code. The testimony relevant to the instant appeal is reflected in the factual background above. Also relevant is Evansky's testimony on cross-examination, acknowledging that electricity was restored at the Residence on July 28, 2015. Evansky also testified that he had in fact received a message from Setzler, on behalf of DeRaffele, but he could not recall if he responded. Setzler testified that neither he nor DeRaffele's previous ...


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