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Rent control: Judge Ricciardi stands up for Oakland tenants

Written by Susan Mannella on .

District Judge Gene Ricciardi knows how to get somebody's attention.

The former Pittsburgh city councilman who presides on the South Side levied an unprecedented, $730,000 fine against the owner of a decrepit Oakland apartment building, an attempt to get the owner to pay attention to long-neglected conditions at her property.

This approach is necessary when landlords behave like scofflaws, ignoring zoning and occupancy rules that are vital to the safety of tenants. Even a landlord who might decide to ignore multiple warnings and citations is certainly going to pay attention when facing the prospect of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines.

In the case of 4512 Centre Ave., city building inspectors alleged 10 violations, including broken windows, holes in the foundation, trash and debris throughout and a lack of smoke detectors and illuminated exit signs. Judge Ricciardi said owner Sophia Edgos was not cooperative or remorseful and he found her testimony, in which she said she had delivered a box of smoke alarms to the building, "seriously lacking."

It is unlikely that any owner will actually end up paying such a high fine, but Judge Ricciardi's action was never intended to reap revenue. He wants to make sure landlords properly maintain their buildings, so no tenants are living in dangerous conditions.

We applaud Judge Ricciardi's bold move and suggest that other court officers use a similar shock-and-awe strategy to get the attention of unscrupulous landlords.

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