The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a City of Philadelphia ordinance requiring the owners of vacant buildings to secure all window openings and entryways with working windows and doors.
The property owners argued this was an unconstitutional exercise of the City’s police power because the ordinance concerned the aesthetic appearance of vacant buildings rather than the safety risks posed by blight. The trial court and Commonwealth Court had ruled in favor of the property owners, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed and vacated the earlier decisions. The Court concluded that the challengers failed to prove the ordinance was solely aimed at improving the aesthetics of vacant buildings. Rather, the City had presented evidence that the ordinance was formulated through the legislative process and the City had relied upon multiple studies that suggested properties with boarded up windows and doors contribute to blight. The Court remanded the matter to address whether the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague or if the permitted fines were unconstitutionally excessive and confiscatory. A concurring opinion was issued by Justice Wecht who argued that the Court should embrace the more deferential federal rational basis standard for evaluating the validity of an ordinance.