Downtown Tyrone building owners found guilty of code violations

The owners of a building at 978-80 Pennsylvania Avenue were found guilty of a code violation after a hearing before Magisterial District Judge Fred Miller last month.
The downtown building had been the subject of ongoing issues between the owner and Tyrone Borough dating back to early last year. The building owned by Mr. and Mrs. William Loner had been determined to need repairs on an exterior brick wall.
Code enforcement officer Tom Lang issued a new property maintenance violation notice in early January regarding the property. Loner had sought answers to questions about the building’s status after being issued a compliance order in November of 2004.
In a December 2004 report to council, Lang said Mr. Loner contacted the borough about the properties. Loner was seeking information about the possibility of a motel being built which might include the site of the property.
Lang explained that Loner said he did not want to spend money to repair the wall if the building was going to be purchased and demolished in the near future. Loner asked about the possibility of being reimbursed funds spent to repair the wall at the time of the possible acquisition of the property.
Lang said the borough contacted the Altoona Blair County Development Corporation to seek answers to Loner’s questions. In a January 2005 report to council, Lang said based on information received from ABCD, no definite acquisition date had been set to purchase any properties in regard to the motel.
The exterior rear brick wall of the building was described as being in poor condition. The maintenance violation notice explained the information from ABCD and included the issuance of a compliance order to repair the wall by early February of this year.
In the letter, Lang said the borough had issued a building permit in February of 2004 to complete work needed to bring the building into compliance.
Lang explained Loner was also in process of clearing up property maintenance violations at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue at the time the borough issued the original permit for the 978-980 Pennsylvania Avenue location. Lang noted Loner wanted to use the same contractor at each site, so the borough reissued the permit numerous times.
Lang said a report from Loner’s engineer explained the wall was in poor condition and was separating from the rest of the building. Lang said Loner’s engineer recommended a new exterior wall be constructed on the interior side of the existing brick wall. The engineer recommended the existing brick wall be attached to the new wall or it should be removed. Lang said the engineer further recommended the best solution would be the total removal of the existing brick wall.
Lang also said there were numerous interior violations that the borough had held off on doing anything about until the exterior wall was repaired to ensure the safety of any workers removing violations from the upper floors of the structure.
Lang said Loner had come into the code enforcement office to secure the necessary permits to cure the violations in early 2005. Lang issued a one-month permit and had agreed to renew it based on the repair work progressing at the location. Loner was told if the work didn’t commence, the borough would follow through on legal proceedings.
Still later this year, another issue arose regarding the repair of the wall. Loner wanted to know if the wall was actually part of the borough’s property rather than his. Lang reported Mr. Loner said his attorney had advised him he should not continue repair work on the wall until the location and ownership of the property (the wall) was determined.
The borough had requested the owners have a survey completed to determine the location of the wall. Loner told the borough the field survey was completed in late May. Lang said he has not seen the results of the survey, but had been told verbally by Loner that the wall was the borough’s property.
Yesterday morning, Lang told The Daily Herald, the borough had agreed that if that were the case, they would create a subdivision to give Loner the property at no cost to him so he could tear it down and have it replaced.
However, Lang explained Loner said it was not his responsibility to repair the wall. Lang said Loner thought it was the borough’s responsibility. Lang noted Loner had use the wall for more than a decade and had placed a new electrical system on it.
Lang filed citations against the Loners for code violations in August before Judge Miller.
Prior to the trial, the Loner’s attorney had asked for the violations to be dismissed. The attorney for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had asked that testimony be precluded from the hearing based on the defendants having failed to properly exhaust administrative remedies available to them. In other words, by not making an appeal within a prescribed time period the defendants forfeited the right to present a defense. The defense had contended a borough ordinance permits an appeals process, but does not require it.
District Judge Miller issued his opinion and order on the violations last week. Based on case law and information filed in legal briefs by the respective attorneys, Miller agreed with the prosecution regarding the testimony issue. He said it was not in dispute that the defendants had received a notice in July containing their rights to appeal the code officer’s findings.
By not appealing in a timely manner, the ordinance violation was deemed binding. Miller also ruled against dismissing the case. He was then left with imposing a fine.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Loner received two $1,000 fines plus costs. The fines regarded separate violations; one for “open holes, break, and loose and rotting materials,” and the other for “failure to maintain (a) structural exterior brick wall.”
Lang said if the required work wasn’t done at the location, the owners could be subject to additional citations. The borough also reserved the right to correct the problems at its own expense. Lang said in that instance, the borough could then impose a lien on the property to recoup its expenses.
Lang said he had not spoken to the Loners since Judge Miller’s decision.