The deadly fire on Pine Street in Wilkes-Barre and another big fire in Wilkes-Barre Tuesday are raising concerns about other empty properties in the city that could also be fire hazards.
The other fire that kept crews busy in Wilkes-Barre Tuesday was at a boarded-up abandoned house a few blocks south of the city`s center.
A Newswatch 16 investigation finds the owner of that house owns several other houses, duplexes and apartments in the city, and he has been battling with Wilkes-Barre city leaders for several years over efforts to clean up some of these abandoned properties.
Those who pass by the rubble of the house on Academy Street in Wilkes-Barre said it doesn’t look much worse than it did before fire destroyed the place.
“It was always boarded up. You’d always see people coming in and out of it all the time. So to me it was like a nuisance,” said Mark Warke.
“Some of them could be really nice buildings for nice people. Good people. for them to rent,” said Gloria Edwards.
No one lived at the Academy Street house, which records show is one of several properties owned by Wilkes-Barre attorney Joseph Reisinger or his son Joseph, junior.
“The unfortunate part is it seems like the law favors the property owners,” said Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton.
He added Reisinger has been fighting the city and getting delays in court over the city’s efforts to get him to clean up the Academy Street building and other properties for several years.
Neswatch 16 looked at some of Reisinger`s 25 listed properties in Wilkes-Barre.
On Carlisle Street, Reisinger is listed as the owner of two multi-unit apartments that are now condemned and padlocked from the outside.
In the Miners Mills section on one side of St. Clair Street, a duplex is boarded up, and across the street is another boarded up duplex with a notice reading the dwelling is unfit for human habitation.
Records show Reisinger owns empty lots on Monroe Street in south Wilkes-Barre.
An arsonist set three units on fire in August, 2010.
Neighbors wonder why the city can’t get these properties cleaned up.
“I continue to ask for their patience and let them know that once we get the legal authority to do what we can to clean up that neighborhood, to clean up that nuisance property, we’ll be out there the next day,” Mayor Leighton vowed.
Reisinger was not at his Kingston offices when Newswatch 16 went to get his side of the story, but by phone, he said what Mayor Leighton said had, “No basis of support” “(because) the Luzerne County Tax Claim Bureau tried to sell my properties at auction and found no buyers, I have no legal authority under Pennsylvania law to do anything to those properties.”
“We wanted to improve the properties and find people to live in them.” Reisinger added.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Reisinger sent Newswatch 16 copies of the legal papers over his battle with the city, showing a magistrate’s ruling his properties violated a nuisance order were overturned and that the matter could end up in the state supreme court.
All this means it could take some time before someone can do anything about many of these empty lots or abandoned buildings.