Behind the Facade

At 1314 Locust Street sits the Ridgway Building that houses The Library Company of Philadelphia.

Library Company Ridgway Building.jpegLibrary Company Ridgway Building.jpeg

Not to be confused with the Free Library of Philadelphia, which is a traditional lending library, the Library Company, according to its website, “is an independent research library concentrating on American society and culture from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Free and open to the public, the Library Company houses an extensive non-circulating collection of rare books, manuscripts, broadsides, ephemera, prints, photographs, and works of art. Our mission is to foster scholarship in and increase public understanding of American history before 1900 by preserving and interpreting the valuable materials in our care. The Library Company connects with thousands of visitors annually, ensuring that the lessons of the past will continue to amaze, instruct, and inspire future generations. We serve a diverse constituency throughout Philadelphia and the nation, offering comprehensive reader services, an internationally renowned fellowship program, online catalogs, and regular exhibitions and public programs.”

Noble as that mission is, there is another side to the Library Company, and that side can be found on the tiny street directly behind the Ridgway Building, where the company has invested millions of dollars in purchasing three properties, as a search of the Office of Property Assessment’s website shows. Note that in 2016, the Library Company formed the Irving Street LLC as its property management vehicle.

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Here is 1319 Irving Street:

1319 Irving Street1319 Irving Street


A rather unprepossessing structure, if I do say so.

The only maintenance that I recall seeing done to it is the removal of the exterior fire escapes, which presumably were deemed unnecessary for an uninhabited building.

The ground floor garage is used, however.

So the Library Company spent a million bucks on a property that is now assessed at half that value in order to get a two car garage.

Surely a wise investment.

Then there’s the property at 1317:

1317 Irving Street1317 Irving Street

1317 Irving Street


A much more attractive property at first glance. Up until May it was rented by one of those Man With a Van guys.

He used to park his red van on the sidewalk all the time, and he let his two dogs run untethered for hours at a time as they barked and pooped all over the street—poop that he never cleaned up.

It wasn’t until he moved out that I discovered I wasn’t the only person on this block who had a problem with him.

I did get a peek inside 1317 when some workers came to clean the place, and frankly I wasn’t impressed by the condition of the interior.

Apparently neither were any prospective renters, as it has remained unleased since May. The rental price came down a couple times, finally settling at what the Library Company presumably thought was a bargain rate of $2,975, but when last I looked, the property remained empty. Perhaps that’s because a more reasonable rate for the property in the condition that it’s in would be $2,000. Tops. And only because of the location.

For the last couple weeks Zillow has shown it as off market, but the rental sign still remains, so I don’t know what’s going on there.

And so we come to 1311:

1311 Irving.jpeg1311 Irving.jpeg


At first glance this might seem to be the crown jewel of the Library Company, sorry, Irving Street LLC’s investments. Purchased in 2016 for $1.5 million, it’s currently assessed at nearly $2 million. And it’s certainly an attractive house.

But up until June, there used to be a deck on the left side above the garage.

I got an inkling that something was wrong when sometime in the spring the tenant fashioned a makeshift roof over the deck with a large sheet of plastic. This was confirmed when workmen arrived in June and proceeded to remove the deck and then resurface the roof. Must have been a leaky roof, I decided.

Then in November when I saw that the tenant was moving out, I discovered that there had been, shall we say, friction between landlord and tenant ever since he moved in, and that he was now being evicted. So I went to Philadelphia Municipal Court Electronic Filing System to see what I could find out.

It didn’t take long, and anyone can do it. Login as a public user, select Type: Plaintiff, Case Type: Landlord/Tenant, and then search on “Irving Street” and you’ll find:

CMS Search.jpgCMS Search.jpg

For those not interested in the gory details and unwilling to wade through all the legalese, I’ll provide a brief summary. (If you do want to wade, be sure to scroll to the bottom and then select Print All Non-Confidential Documents)

In June Irving Street LLC, or Plaintiff, filed a claim against the tenant for non-payment of rent and on July 22 was awarded a judgment of $44,260.80, the Defendant having failed to appear. (The rent was apparently $5,000 per month and hadn’t been paid for eight months.)

On August 9 the Defendant, having now hired the services of an attorney, through that attorney claimed he had never received a notice of the hearing and that’s why he hadn’t appeared. A new hearing was eventually set for September 10.

At that hearing the Defendant presented evidence that upon the inception of his tenancy (don’t you just love legalese?) the “premises were in disrepair, including but not limited to a leaking roof, burst pipes resulting in damage to personal property, moisture and mold in walls, and other general disrepair, resulting in the filing of L&I’s lawsuit against the property owner for violations on the property (Phila CCP #190400806).”

The original disposition for the Plaintiff was vacated and a new disposition was entered of “Judgment for the Plaintiff in the amount of $9300.00 plus costs $143.75 for a total of $9443.75 Judgment for Possession as of 09/10/2019.”

But if you think that meant the Defendant had to pay the Library Company, sorry, Irving Street LLC, $9,443, you need to read a little further to where the Plaintiff agrees to refund $9250 upon the Defendant’s vacating of the premises.
And so we come to yesterday, when I saw two vans pull up to the place. Were they going to start the extensive renovations that, according to the court documents, the property desperately needs in order to repair the leaks, molds, moisture damage, etc.?
Get serious. Instead of replacing the roof deck, they boarded up the door that led to the deck.
Then they put some new rain spouting up in the style that is usually called Mickey Mouse. Take a look.

See the brown rain spouting, including the mid air dangling spout, as well as the water damage to 1311 IrvingSee the brown rain spouting, including the mid air dangling spout, as well as the water damage to 1311 Irving

See the brown rain spouting, including the mid air dangling spout, as well as the water damage to 1311 Irving

And while you’re looking, you might want to observe the water damage that’s visible even on the outside of the property where the paint has chipped away.

So why am I blogging about this?

Well, I live on the street, and I don’t think the Library Company has been a good faith property owner. They rent to undesirable tenants and they don’t maintain their properties, not even to the minimum required by law.

In fact there’s a name for landlords who minimize property repairs in order to maximize profits, and don’t tell me, I’ll think of it—

But they aren’t even good at that. As far as I can tell, they aren’t generating any revenue from their million dollar garage at 1319; by asking way too much for 1317 that property has gone vacant for months; and by not doing even the minimum maintenance on 1311 (you know, like plugging leaks, cleaning out mold, repairing burst pipes), they’ve lost at least a year’s worth of rent on 1311, not to mention their legal fees.

So I think the Library Company ought to stick to what they’re good at, whatever that is, and get out of the landlord business. Because I’d like to live on a street where the owners take pride in their properties.

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