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Hazleton Fighting Blight

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HAZLETON -- The city of Hazleton put a new ordinance in place this past November that requires out-of-town landlords to hire someone within 10 miles to keep tabs on their properties. With plenty of properties falling apart in the city, officials are taking a tough approach to getting started.

From far away, this apartment building appears to be fine. Up close, it becomes clear that it's crumbling.

"If you look from the third floor down, you can see where the roof, where it's exposed up there. You can see where the mortar and the brick is exposed there. You can see on the ground here where the brick's actually fallen," said Rick Wech, Hazleton code enforcement officer.

Robert Maynard of new york owns the property here on West Broad Street. He's gotten two 90-day extensions to clean it up, but was refused a third. Instead, a judge fined him more than $12,000 and ordered him to clean the entire property by May 21.

It's part of the city's new plan to crack down on absentee landlords and their unsafe buildings.

"They become havens for drug activity, gang activity, crime, vagrance," said Chief Frank DeAndrea of Hazleton Police.

The building was first declared unsafe on June 29, 2012. But the people who work nearby said it's been a problem for much longer than that.

"It's been attempted a few times to make it look a little nicer but it just doesn't seem to work," said Michael Kutchmarick, who works at Krapf and Hughes Funeral Home next door.

In November, the city passed an ordinance that requires landlords who live more than ten miles outside the city to have a local property agent to keep tabs on the building. Now city officials are sending paperwork to the landlords to enforce the rule. Michael Kutchmarick, who works next to the building, said it's a big step forward.

"You look at some of the buildings now and you get one eyesore like that and it just puts a shadow on the neighborhood, so I think they're doing the right thing in taking an aggressive approach," said Michael Kutchmarick.

If these landlords are cited and don't fix up their properties or pay the fines, it's considered a crime, and the case moves up to county. City officials are also handing out citations to business owners who haven't renewed their licenses. They're being fined up to $600 a day for going unlicensed.