Harrisburg, PA – A lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania alleges that City of Harrisburg, and Dauphin County officials illegally coordinated a real estate scheme that violated the private property rights of its citizens.
Growing U.S. Trend: Local governments using fines and outright forfeitures to take control of property and pad their budgets
The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits these excessive fines
Serious accusations are described within the details of the lawsuit that involve physical threats of violence, property damage, weaponizing the codes enforcement department, and misuse of other city resources to target the plaintiff’s livelihood, and to subvert the rights of the property owners.
The lawsuit implicates city and county officials who made strategic zoning changes as a tool to devalue select real estate parcels, and allegedly used other public departments to target private property owners.
A facet of the scheme involved the City of Harrisburg applying pressure on select property owners using codes enforcement officers.
Former Codes Official Arden Emerick testified under oath to Magisterial District Justice Margeram that he was specifically directed by the mayor to cite the owner of 333 S. 18th Street for codes violations. This tactic was used in conjunction with the scheme to undervalue real estate in the industrial corridor of Allison Hill.
The effect of rezoning in Harrisburg created land use restrictions, increased taxes, and other financial burdens on property owners. This was allegedly done in Allison Hill to devalue real estate, and funnel private property through HRA and CREDC.
The City of Harrisburg has a history of using the Codes Enforcement office as a weapon. It was widely reported in 2014 when the city had a pastor jailed over a church building, a case in which all charges were later dropped.
Pastor Sullivan believes he was actually being targeted by the city for political reasons other than the church. At 48 years-old, the pastor found himself in the hospital as a result of undue stress from the matter.
Also in 2014, early in the first term of Mayor Papenfuse, the City of Harrisburg illegally removed jurisdiction of housing codes violations from the local magistrates, and sent all code violations 45 minutes away to a courtroom in Elizabethville.
Now described as an abuse of power, the court, which Mayor Eric Papenfuse pushed for, enabled the city to push its development agenda on property owners in a struggling city.
A key driver behind the Harrisburg housing court, which was very quietly shut down in 2019 was Bureau of Codes Administrator David Patton. The Housing Court funneled cases for codes outside of Harrisburg City Magisterial District Courts, therefore violating the rights of private property owners in Harrisburg.
Many of the allegation are detailed in the federal lawsuit. The Bureau of Codes played a primary role in targeting property owners in Allison Hill. In particular, the plaintiff contends:
- Codes administrator used city money to demolish properties for a private party and refused to answer to council when asked about the funding.
- Codes administrator began demolition prior to UGI removing the mercury switches and other protocol measures, putting the neighbors lives at risk.
- Codes administrator subverted the law he co-wrote on tax sale approvals, in an effort to subvert legal ownership of real estate.
- Codes administrator illegally held up building permits against the city’s own ordinances in attempt to push a private property owner out of Allison hill.
- Codes administrator contradicted himself in email communications on the viability of construction stability, and demolished a building without any prior indication of it needing to be demolished, except that the real estate was being shuffled to a straw buyer to subvert legal ownership.
- Codes administrator filed an emergency order on a non-emergency matter, in the effort to create a scenario that appeased the real estate scheme.