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Judge fines Oakland landlords $460,000

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Pittsburgh judge said he fined two Oakland landlords more than $460,000 today because they neglected years of building and fire code violations that put residents in danger.

"They put their tenants at risk," said District Justice Gene Ricciardi of the South Side. "They've really damaged the reputation of the Oakland community. These citations were very serious. We're not just talking about a cracked sidewalk here or some overgrown weeds."

Ricciardi fined Jason Cohen, 27, of Mt. Lebanon, $200,000 on 10 counts of city code violations including broken fire escapes, inoperable fire alarms and improper fire doors at his 42-unit Parkview Estates complex.

A minor fire broke out in Cohen's Parkview Avenue building May 16. Firefighters who were there conducting an inspection based on numerous complaints from tenants found the first-floor alarms did not work and many apartment did not have smoke detectors.

The city stationed a firefighter there overnight to monitor the building as Cohen scrambled to correct the problems.

In a separate case, Ricciardi fined Atallah Khalil, of Carrick, $260,107.50 for similar fire code violations on a 12-unit apartment building he owns at 343 McKee Place.

Both buildings house primarily students attending the University of Pittsburgh. They are two among many examples of dilapidated student housing in Oakland and South Oakland near campus.

Ricciardi gave Cohen six weeks to remedy code violations in a second apartment at 331 McKee Place, next door to Khalil's property. The two McKee Place buildings look identical.

The fines must be paid by June 30, according to Riccardi's order.

Neither Cohen nor Khalil could be reached for comment. Both are expected to appeal.

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