Family Faces Lien On Home Because City Doesn’t Have Time To Look At Building

Here in Philadelphia, buildings with multiple apartments must hire private trash collectors to haul away residents’ garbage or face fines. But one family says it’s been having a dilly of a time trying to convince the city that they are the only tenants of the building and that they shouldn’t face a lien over $1,197 in fines that should never have been assessed.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, a previous owner had divided the rowhouse into two apartment units, but it had since been converted back into a single-family dwelling. The current owners had no idea of its previous status when they bought the place in 2012, that is until they began receiving fines from the Streets Department for using the city’s trash collectors.

What’s more, the new homeowners were on the hook for fines incurred by the previous owner of the building.

Calls to the Streets Department got bounced around from city agency to city agency; we’re pretty sure at some point their call got routed through the visitor’s bullpen phone at Citizen’s Bank Park. Ultimately, they ended up talking to someone at the Office of Property Assessment, which said the whole mess could be cleared up with a quick visit to the home… in a few months.

Meanwhile, the city continued dangling the threat of a lien as the fines neared the $1,200 mark.

After the Daily News got involved, an assessor was out to the house within 24 hours. It took all of a few minutes for the inspector to confirm that this was indeed a single-family dwelling.

The Streets Dept. temporarily reclassified the property as an “owner-occupied dwelling,” which should put an end to the lien process and wipe out the erroneous debt.

As we’ve written before, understaffed and overwhelmed city bureaucracies can result in paperwork backlogs and errors that lead to liens being placed in error on homeowners who owe no debt. If that lien is then sold to an investor, the costs to remove the lien can spiral out of control very quickly as the investor tacks on interest and other fees. A homeowner who is unable to pay that substantially larger debt faces foreclosure and the loss of not only his home, but any equity he has in the property.