Philly City Council Bills Target Illegal Auto Work

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Russell Zerbo, an advocacy coordinator with the Clean Air Council who has battled lawless auto shops and junk yards, says they are “a huge problem” across Philadelphia. Zerbo has worked for years with a group of residents in the Elmwood Section of Southwest Philadelphia who want to pressure auto store owners to clean up junk cars and old tires creating hazards on the paths taken by young people to get to school.

“You look at the street, you see oil and all kinds of automotive fluids everywhere. I don’t let my kids play in front at all, ”said Amanda Dobbs, a longtime resident of the area, in 2019.

Zerbo said many companies have taken advantage of the city’s lax enforcement of its codes.

“When you have unregulated auto repair, the risk of fire is enormous. There is poor disposal of oil and chemicals like antifreeze. Another common complaint is that people illegally spray paint cars. You’re supposed to wear a hazmat suit to do it, but there are people doing it in the alleys with a bandana, ”he said. “And then the simple idea that you are not allowed to walk on your own sidewalk because it’s covered in cars and discarded tires.”

But while Zerbo said higher fees might help, he was skeptical that Henon’s bills to raise fees would have much of an impact in a city that typically loses the battle against illegal auto stores. He said the biggest problem was the app.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority typically concentrates its ticket agents in denser commercial sections of the downtown area. Meanwhile, the city’s licensing and inspection department, which is responsible for enforcing trade laws, is relying on what Zerbo has described as a slow and complex court process to bring the worst crooks to heel. Many stores also know how to evade fines, stripping cars of nameplates or labels, while roadside mechanics are even more difficult to identify – not to mention the fine.

“The reason they park them on the sidewalk is that it’s hard to prove that the cars are part of the business,” Zerbo said. “The city is trying to ticket ownerless cars. “


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