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Munhall police update abandoned-homes list

Michael DiVittorio
| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 4:16 a.m.
Munhall officer Dan Boehme checks on an abandoned house in the borough as the department seeks up update its list of unoccupied structures.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Munhall officer Dan Boehme checks on an abandoned house in the borough as the department seeks up update its list of unoccupied structures.

Munhall police hope to get help from the community in updating the department's abandoned home list.

Officer Dan Boehme said police have been notified of 15 vacant properties since posting a request for the public's assistance on the Munhall Crime Watch Facebook page on Monday.

Boehme said police are interested in hearing about not only unoccupied structures, but about suspicious activities as well.

“Sometimes they're just unkempt properties, just anything that could give us a way to monitor crime (and) for different health reasons,” he said. “We're looking at all different aspects of it. It's a way not only for us to do it, but for the community to come out. It helps us a lot.”

Boehme said the department typically updates its list at this time each year, because warmer weather means more activity.

“It's something the borough office and code enforcement work on all the time,” Boehme said of keeping track of unoccupied houses.

“(Police) want to know where these houses are so the officers on the shifts know where they are. If you have an abandoned house and it sits there long enough and becomes obvious, you could have anything from squatters to copper thefts to whatever.”

Boehme said squatters increase the likelihood of a fire because they typically use candles for a light source.

Borough code enforcement officer Dave Cannon said there are approximately 300 abandoned properties and 33 vacant lots in the borough.

He said abandoned homes are dangerous play areas for juveniles.

“When kids have a lot of free time in the summer, they like to get into stuff,” Cannon said. “They don't realize the severity.”

Boehme said very high weeds and grass, and the building being overrun by vegetation, are signs that a property may be abandoned.

He cautioned neighbors not to go to the buildings to see if anyone's living there.

“If it looks out of the ordinary, just let us check it,” Boehme said. “We'd rather come down and spend 10 minutes and realize that everything's fine here than have this place catch on fire and endanger people around them or something else happen to it.”

Cannon said the borough is considering the possibility of acquiring the abandoned properties and selling them in order to remediate blight and put the properties back on the tax rolls.

“We're in the process,” Cannon said. “We'll get the county, the school district and the borough to waive the taxes, so the (buyer) has to pay only the administrative costs.

“We're never going to recover the back taxes from most of these houses. Why not cut the losses and move forward, and get it to a new owner?”

Council president Joe Ballas said having an updated account of abandoned properties helps police know where problems may occur.

“They're on the streets 24/7,” Ballas said.

To report abandoned properties or suspicious activity, contact police at 412-464-7300.

Information about acquiring a vacant property is available from Cannon at 412-287-2184.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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