District attorney calls on DU law school for building code help

By Brandon Addeo | The Duquesne Duke

A group of Duquesne law students are assisting the district attorney in his efforts to crack down on building code violations.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. asked for the support of the Duquesne law school in his initiative to indict violators of McKeesport building code requirements, according to supervising attorney and Duquesne law professor Joseph Mistick.

Law students will analyze and interpret existing McKeesport building code ordinances and will prepare to represent the city in court if there are citations issued, according to Mistick.

Zappala’s efforts to strictly enforce building codes come as a result of an Oct. 18 fire in McKeesport that killed six people, four of which were children, and injured another.

The eight students participating are members of the Duquesne law school’s Urban Development Practicum, in which students provide free legal services when it relates to real estate and economic development in distressed communities in the region.

Mistick said his decision to accept the district attorney’s request was not a difficult one.

“If you look at the pictures of those children who lost their lives [in the McKeesport fire] and you do not step up when asked to help, then there’s something wrong with you,” Mistick said.

Second year law student and group coordinator Alexis Schaming said she has been looking over smoke detector requirements for McKeesport buildings and is attempting to find out who is enforcing the requirements.

Schaming said rental properties are a large part of McKeesport’s housing and many landlords live outside McKeesport, making it difficult to ensure houses are being kept up to code.

Second-year law students Lauren Snyder and Jonathan Williams are also analyzing McKeesport’s smoke detector requirements and fire code. Second-year law student Anthony Owen said he will be looking for private landowners with available property to place displaced tenants should their current residence be deemed “not worthy for living.”

Third-year law students Blair Droskey and Greg Sobol will be researching recent fires and looking at how municipal codes control landlords.

Snyder said the work of the Urban Development Practicum will have a positive effect on McKeesport.

“It is important that we not only help the city enforce its laws, but also to educate residents on the importance of smoke detectors,” Snyder said. “I think that by doing these things, our work will have a substantial effect on fire safety in McKeesport.”

Williams said he and his classmates are using this project as a means to gain experience and help a community in need.

“I think that the Practicum has been presented with a great opportunity to assist a local community in its pursuit of ensuring safe living conditions for all of its residents,” Williams said. “We are excited to be able to use the skills that we have learned through our legal education and the practicum to support McKeesport with anything the city needs going forward.”