Presented with a challenge to the City of Philadelphia’s Windows and Doors Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), the Commonwealth Court ruled that the Ordinance was an improper exercise of the City’s police power because it was purely concerned with aesthetics, rather than the safety risks posed by blight.
Rufo was issued a violation notice by the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections (“L&I”) for a building he owned. The notice stated that the Property was vacant, lacked doors and windows with frames and glazing, constituted a “blighting influence,” and was in violation of the City’s “Windows and Doors Ordinance.” Rufo appealed the notice to the L&I Inspection Review Board, asserting the Ordinance was unconstitutional because its purpose was aesthetics, rather than safety, which was not a proper use of the municipality’s police power. The Board affirmed the violation notice and concluded the constitutional arguments were meritless. It dismissed Rufo’s concerns about people breaking into the property by saying that he could install masonry or wood behind the windows and doors if this were really a concern. Rufo appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, which reversed the Board’s decision. The trial court concluded that the Ordinance had a “purely aesthetic goal,” and was thus not a proper use of the police power. The City appealed.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed. It found that while the City had presented testimony that “numerous studies” demonstrated that securing blighted properties with wood and masonry rather than windows and doors was a contributing factor to blight within a neighborhood, it had not actually presented any studies that reached that conclusion. Therefore the City had failed to establish a substantial relation between the Ordinance and the reduction of blight. Specifically, the court pointed to the statement that masonry and wood could be installed behind windows and doors as evidence that the Ordinance was concerned only with the aesthetic appearance of vacant buildings rather than the safety risks posed by blight.