Philadelphia Threatens to Sue Man Who Spent $20,000 Cleaning Up Vacant Lot

Ori Feibush removed 40 tons of trash and debris from a vacant, city-owned lot next to his coffee shop. He planted cherry trees and added benches. The city’s response? Litigate!

According to the Philadelphia Daily News (with pictorial goodness):

Feibush…submitted seven written requests for either owning or leasing the parcel, has called the [redevelopment] authority 24 times and has visited its office four times. Both sides agree that Feibush went to the authority in early August and said the state of the lot was a threat to him and his neighbors. He was told not to go forward with his plans for the parcel. A few days later, he did anyway. "Finally out of frustration, I said, 'I'm going to clean it,' and that's when I rustled every possible feather there," said Feibush.

Officials have ordered him to return the lot to its original state and are threatening to sue.

"Like any property owner, [the authority] does not permit unauthorized access to or alteration of its property. This is both on principle (no property owner knowingly allows trespassing) and to limit taxpayer liability" says Paul D. Chrystie, director of communications at the Office of Housing and Community Development.

The city has issued citations to Feibush for not removing snow from the lot’s sidewalk. Last month they cited him for trash on the lot, which, again, he does not own.

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority owns some 1,500 vacant lots citywide. The lot in question sits in Point Breeze, a neighborhood the city first declared blighted, thereby subjecting it to the threat of eminent domain, in 1971. Officials renewed the blight certification in 2009.

Click here for a reasonably complete list of Philadelphia neighborhoods threatened with eminent domain—until 2013—when the city’s authority to condemn property for private use expires—as per 2006 reform enacted by Pennsylvania legislators.

Click here for more pics of the redeemed property.

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  • John||

    Forget Orwell. Kafka was the guy who understood this scum.

  • SKR||

    How dare he threaten the CRA's blight finding by removing trash? C.c

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    My thoughts as well. How much do you want to bet that the trash was intentionally left there to help justify the blight designation and eminent domain claims?

  • Romulus Augustus||

    Hey, Phila. has the latest "America's Mayor," Mr. Nutter. How can you expect him to worry about justice in this case when he is too busy opining on the Trey Martin "assassination?" The last time anything was cleaned up was when President Clinton showed up with a paintbrush in hand and 15 minutes for a photo op. Maybe Mr. Feibush should have invited Michelle to come and put a veggie garden in one corner?

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Just another day in the City of Sewerdelphia.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Officials have ordered him to return the lot to its original state and are threatening to sue.

    *head falls off, rolls under desk*

  • AlmightyJB||

    Well there is a certain look neighborhoods look for. Like in certain neighborhoods you have to have certain hue of roof shingles and can't paint your house with certain colors. If everything isn't covered in trash people won't get the true Philly experience. It's an ambiance thing.

  • T||

    Nice catch-22. We'll fine you for not cleaning up the property you don't own, and threaten you with lawsuits if you do.

  • mr simple||

    He shouldn't have said anything about cleaning up the lot and just blamed local vandals. You know, kids these days, with their picking up trash and building benches.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    It's those damn video games with their environmental messages.

  • MJGreen||

    That Tom Sawyer tricked me into hauling 40 tons of trash!

  • Randian||

    Though the lot is not for rent
    To this or any other gent
    Testing the city's defense
    Is a path to 'prisonment...


  • Lord Humungus||

    I lol'd

  • LTC(ret) John||

    It was the Latin Enviro Disciples! Or was it the Black Gangster Cleaners? Insane Civic Improvement Posse?

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Its street art.

  • Spoonman.||

    No wonder the dividing line between my town and the City of Philadelphia is also the "goes to complete shit" line.

    Seriously, you're in Cheltenham, everything is normal and sensible, and you cross one road and suddenly buildings are falling down, people are jaywalking with shopping carts across the road, drug deals going down in plain view, etc.

  • KDN||

    people are jaywalking with shopping carts across the road, drug deals going down in plain view

    Points in Philly's favor.

  • tarran||

    I think the big issue is with the landscaping and the installation of park benches.

    This isn't a case where he took out the trash and removed weeds and overgrowth. The work substantially altered the property.

    However, I think he could make the case that the city had abandoned the property. If the status quo continues for x number of years, it would be an open and shut case for him to acquire ownership of the parcel through adverse possession.

    Their fining him for not removing snow and removing trash from the property will backfire - especially if he fights them in court. If they go to court they'll essentially have to argue that he owns the property, and then they are done.

    I think this whole thing is a travesty. There is no way the redevelopment authority is telling the truth: no way this guy just decided to improve the property without talking to them first. They were lazy and are now trying to pretend that their inaction was his fault.

  • ||

    Agree. It was abandoned property. He improved it. Legally he should be declared the owner.

  • nicole||

    Their fining him for not removing snow and removing trash from the property will backfire - especially if he fights them in court. If they go to court they'll essentially have to argue that he owns the property, and then they are done.

    What's more bizarre is that they tagged him for this before he improved the property at all (I was confused about how this worked, but it's explained in the article). He was getting citations about the state of a property he didn't own, which he then attempted to purchase or lease (according to him), and when he was denied (or, I guess, just ignored) he made the alterations, which had been, to some extent at least, requested by the city. Sigh.

  • nicole||

    What I'd also love to see is how he could return the property to its previous state without incurring penalties, probably even criminal, for doing so. Hey everyone, let's have a bottle-breaking party in this vacant lot all weekend so we can get it back to normal!

  • Rich||

    Nicole, damn your quick fingers!

    Anyway, it'd be even better if we break windows in non-vacant houses and dump *that* glass in the lot.

  • nicole||

    Let's get Krugman on the case! This is a clear opportunity for stimulus.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "He planted cherry trees"

    Probably can't be touched and ruined the property forever.

  • mr simple||

    Perhaps he should have turned it into a "wetlands" area, then he could have had the EPA fighting the city.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Evil plan. I like it.

    Only one flaw, localities are generally allowed to swap wetlands designations within their borders. In other words, they can move a wetlands designation to one plot from another as long as the acreage is the same or more on the new plot. It's yet another tool in the zoning committee's "fuck you" bag of tricks.

  • Jerry on the road||

    I can understand the taxpayer liability argument, but that should also work against the city when it has a vacant lot that could be filled with glass, syringes and whatever not.

  • ||

    Go back to a common law understanding of land ownership. If you improve land, it's yours.

  • Randian||

    Not with an on-the-record, clear title holding owner you aren't. If you're arguing adverse possession, the time frame is usually 20 years, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a statute that exempted municipal, state, and federal lands to prevent adverse possessors from owning the backwoods of Yellowstone or some such nonsense.

  • ||

    Can't the government neglect of the property factor into it. Plus the fact that they cited him for not shovelling the snow or clearing the trash out of the lot previously.

    Even if the legal technicalities are off, perhaps there OUGHT to be a law saying you can claim possession of unmaintained property owned by the city or local government, if it's left in a state of neglect ofr a long enough period of time.

  • ChrisO||

    Adverse possession under the common law has never applied against the government.

    The other thing is that this guy is not actually "possessing" the property merely by cleaning it up.

  • SKR||

    Now if he put up a fence....

    He could still get a prescriptive easement.

  • SKR||

    Ack, reverse the order of those.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    The liability now rightfully belongs to the guy. Problem solved.

    The city could release itself from so much liability by not "owning" dumpy land.

  • ||

    This is one point where libertarians might benefit by championing squatter's rights, or the equivalent thereof. Even if he doesn't own the land, he has improved it, it's been sitting vacant for however many years, owned the the state. Arguably, he should be declared the legal owner.

  • T||

    Look up adverse possession. The catch, of course, is that governments at all levels are immune from adverse possession.

  • Pip||

    Speaking of lawsuits:

    Florida Couple Wins $4.5 million: OB Didn’t Suggest Abortion for Damaged Child
    In ancient civilizations, it was common to leave children who were born damaged at the mercy of nature so they could die. Now, in 21st century, there are those who have found a more profitable way to use what they view as a worthless life; sue the doctor for not letting them know ahead of the birth so they could have an abortion performed.

  • John||

    How do they explain the money to the kid. His brain is perfectly fine. It is bad enough growing up with one arm and no legs. But that would be easy when compared to knowing your parents would prefer you to be dead.

  • Randian||

    "Your lack of arms and a leg is expensive, Junior"

    We know the logic of the decision, but all I read is emotional hysteria.

    Paul Cooper of Pajamas Media said Mejia:
    “ … will not win any mother-of-the year awards. I hope when little Bryan grows up he never Googles himself or his parents. I can’t imagine the horror when he reads that his parents wish they would have killed him.

    I can't imagine the horror of a grown man like Cooper being permanently on the rag.

  • tarran||

    They'll probably tell him that they didn't mean it; that they merely said those awful things in a bid to trick people into giving them the money they need to care for him.

    And it's going to mess the kid up:

    1) If he believes them, he learns that lying is great to manipulate people into giving him what he wants. If he starts behaing that way his life is rapidly going to start to suck.

    2) If he disbelieves them, he will think his parents wished he had never been born.

    WTF is wrong with people!?!

  • Randian||

    I can't imagine the horror of a grown man like Cooper being permanently on the rag.

    Oh wait, I guess I can.

  • nicole||

    After the two clicks it takes to get from Breitbart through a pro-life organization to the original news story on this, I get the hand-wringing over the non-abortion to some extent, but on what planet would you not expect to get millions of dollars after your doctors somehow didn't notice that your kid only had one limb instead of four? How many ultrasounds do pregnant women get? And no one mentioned "oh hai, your kid only has 25% of his limbs, just fyi"? In fact, they say that at least one ultrasound showed all four limbs intact, which seems, oh I don't know, kind of impossible. I have absolutely zero problem holding the doctor and ultrasound technician responsible to the tune of a shitload of money if I'm giving birth and all of a sudden find out there is something that seriously wrong with my kid.

  • tarran||

    Except that the doctor isn't responsible for the kid not growing any limbs.

    Their legal argument was that they would have aborted the kid had the docs told them what was going on with him, and that therefore the doc and the techs should pay for the millions of dollars it is going to cost to care for the kid they shouldn't have carried to term.

    Their argument as to how they were injured by the doctors is that it prevented them from aborting a defective child. I've known several kids that weren't wanted by a (both) parent(s), and they were battling severe psychological issues as a result.

    Their best bet is to convince the kid that they lied in court to get money, which is really the least unhealthy lesson they can teach the kid.

  • Juice||

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I have a problem with "use it or lose it" policies. Obviously, we are dealing with a situation comparing peaches and bazookas, but when you go down that road, you give credibility to the sort of logic which gives the City of New London cover to say, "Those people over there were making inefficient use of their property, so we were completely justified in tossing them out and handing it over to Pfizer."

    I would be perfectly happy to see a law forcing the city to auction off any property not actively being used or developed* after eighteen months.

    *I know, the definition of "development" is ripe for abuse. "We're still in the planning stage, and have beenj for the past thirty years!"

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    You misunderstand the concept. Once someone has a rightful claim to property, it doesn't matter how well they "use" it- anyone else trying to claim the property becomes force. However, if someone starts making use of your property and you do nothing to protect your claim in a reasonable amount of time (twenty years under adverse possession), the property becomes not yours.

  • Adam330||

    So he gets citations for trash in the lot, but then is sued for cleaning up the trash. What is he supposed to do then?

  • R C Dean||

    Well, the City has asked him to put the trash back.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    How did the city "acquire" the property? Was it seized for unpaid back taxes?

  • Spoonman.||

    If Philadelphia seized for back taxes it would be in much better shape.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    then is sued for cleaning up the trash. What is he supposed to do then?

    "Satisfaction Guaranteed, or Double Your Trash Back!"

  • The Hammer||

    If it's owned by the state or some bullshit government entity, isn't he a partial owner anyway?

  • Zeb||

    Only if you believe the lie that the government is "us".

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    By principles of homesteading, Feibush has more of a rightful claim to the property than the Filthadelphia governmental douchebags.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    You misunderstand the concept.

    That was actually an (unspecified) reaction to one of Hazel's comments.

    I understand adverse possession. If I come home and discover someone has put a flock of sheep in my pasture, I will turn them out in order to enforce my ownership and control of its use. That is different than a situation in which the government embraces a policy in which somebody with a flock of sheep can move them onto my land if I have no flock of my own grazing there.

    The fact that this case involves an "abandoned" property owned by the government complicates things. At the very least, the city should be subject to exactly the same rules any private owner would have to obey, like not allowing the property to become a hazard.

  • OldMexican||

    The city has issued citations to Feibush for not removing snow from the lot's sidewalk. Last month they cited him for trash on the lot, which, again, he does not own.

    he can present the citations as evidence that the city was imposing a burden on him to keep the lot clean.

    The problem, of course, is that the city will be using his own tax dollars to sue him.

  • R C Dean||

    Like any property owner, [the authority] does not permit unauthorized access to or alteration of its property.

    If you have a vacant lot in the city and you don't fence it, then you are in fact allowing unauthorized access. And, no, Jersey barriers don't count. Those are for keeping cars out, not people.

    In most states, there is no such thing as trespassing without some form of notice. Did the City have a no trespassing sign on that lot?

  • The Last American Hero||

    I can only conclude that Philly has solved its other problems and now they have time to go after this guy.


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