Owner of crumbling building says he's a victim of Reading's incompetence

Harry Stouffer's property racked up numerous code violations over the years

Owner of crumbling building says he's a victim of city's incompetence

READING, Pa. - Building inspectors were back on scene Wednesday, but demolition efforts stalled at a collapsed building in Reading.

Inspectors were waiting to hear from a structural engineer. He was set to investigate the building Wednesday to determine if it is structurally sound.

On Tuesday, demolition crews tore down a portion of the structure after it crumbled in the 1200 block of Buttonwood Street.

When demolition crews arrived, the building's owner, Harry Stouffer, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for yelling obscenities at officials, he admitted.

"It's a total loss now because of incompetence in the city of Reading," said Stouffer, who has been in the middle of an on-going battle with the city for the last two decades.

It finally came to a head Tuesday when part of his building came crashing down. Inspectors called for an emergency demolition and said the building was not structurally sound.

"There was no structural damage. I don't care what they say. I never met their engineer, and they never told me nothing," said Stouffer.

According to the city, the property has been condemned. Stouffer admitted the property did not have working water and utilities for years.

"We sent notices to rehab or demolish the structure. Nothing transpired, he hasn't taken any initiative," said Brian Nicarry, building inspector with the city's building and trades division.

In 2010, the building was even put on the city's blighted property list.

"It wasn't as though it just looked unsightly, it was causing fallout to neighboring properties," said Linda Kelleher, city clerk.

Kelleher said Stouffer's property racked up numerous code violations over the years. 69 News learned several were dismissed in court, but two weeks ago a motion was granted by the Reading Area Water Authority, holding Stouffer responsible for a bill that totaled more than $7,400. 

According to Stouffer, that battle has lasted 20 years.

"The water bill was originally paid in full, they made a mistake but they don't want to admit they made a mistake," he said.

Stouffer said he appealed the water authority's action and is waiting to see what happens next.

Fire officials said they believe Tuesday's rain may have contributed to the collapse.

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