PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s a street filled with life-long Pittsburghers.
“It’s wonderful, the neighbors are nice, we have a beautiful park,” said neighbor Marie Carr.READ MORE: Ohio Messes Up New Wright Brothers License Plate Design
But Marie Carr says she can’t focus on the beauty. She’s instead staring at the vacant home next door with hundreds of stacked tires, bicycles and a rusted refrigerator in the front driveway.
“Everybody we tell this story says, ‘I can’t believe that. You mean you can’t get anything done?’” Carr said.
That’s why Marie and her husband Tom called KDKA Investigates. They gathered up all the neighbors who want to know one thing: What’s it going to take to find the squatter a new home and some help?
“We are tax paying homeowners and it seems he has more rights than we do.”
KDKA Investigates: Why isn’t there a playbook in place for squatters in the City of Pittsburgh? A true system to get these people the help they need?
— MEGHAN SCHILLER (@MeghanKDKA) August 9, 2021
“It almost makes me think I should just stop paying taxes today, and jeez, I can live here. I know I can live here. No one would throw me out,” said Tom Carr.
The home at 216 Venture Street on Observatory Hill belongs to Twila and William Thompson, but neighbors tell KDKA’s Meghan Schiller that the couple died years ago, and then their two daughters died as well. The unpaid taxes on the vacant home: in the thousands.
“At this rate, his rights overrule ours,” said Tom Carr. “We pay taxes. He pays none. The home’s got bills, electric, gas, but he’s found ways to get water and electric.”
KDKA Investigates learned the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections (PLI) tried to condemn the home because it didn’t have any running water. Neighbors snapped a picture of the posted condemnation sign in early July.READ MORE: Study Says Water Is Pennsylvania's Biggest Phobia
If condemned, the squatter would need to move out, but someone called Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) and paid the outstanding debt on the account. PWSA won’t say who paid the debt. We asked how someone who doesn’t own property can call and make decisions on water service.
PWSA said this, “Service was restored because the individual misrepresented their relationship to the property when the payment was made. Our rules and regulations, approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, do not require individuals making payment to document their ownership status. This is standard industry practice.”
“When they say victim, they mean victim — not only from the person who’s doing it, but by the system,” said David Moreland, neighbor.
KDKA Investigates learned the city’s only recourse now is to issue citations — for the tires and the garbage — and it needs three of them.
“What he’s done to the neighborhood, he made our neighborhood into a junkyard, his own private junkyard,” said Moreland.
The final citation was posted July 20, meaning it now heads to another magistrate judge. Neighbors say the last trip didn’t get them far.
“He was like ‘Bring me an owner-tenant agreement or a complaint from the owner, and then I can do something,’ and we’re like ‘They’re dead!’” said Carr.
With no playbook in place, the squatter stays with his two dogs. He declined the chance to talk to KDKA on camera.MORE NEWS: Butler VA To Hold Walk-In Clinic For Veterans And Employees To Get Vaccine Booster Shots
“It’s very depressing because to know that there’s nothing we can do. It just seems we’ve run into one roadblock after the other,” said Carr.