Claudia Vargas describes the troubling list of 39,391 properties with "nuisance liens" or "unpaid bills for sealing, cleaning, or demolition done at taxpayer expense by the Department of Licenses and Inspections." That is, "[work] that building owners were supposed to pay for but didn't."
The monetary total of those liens equals $423 million according to the article by Vargas. "The figure rivals a better-known one: the half-billion dollars Philadelphia is owed in uncollected real estate taxes plus penalties and interest." Or, for that matter, "the Philadelphia School District's $440 million deficit."
"Officials say they have ramped up efforts in the last year by suing owners for unpaid demolition bills. But they also cite the positives of forgiving some liens….With thousands of properties waiting to be disentangled from liens, the city has to juggle its options. If a lien is wiped off the books as part of a deal to sell a property and make way for taxable development, such as homes or businesses…that's a good outcome for the city."
The article details more of the troubling findings of the Inquirer investigation into the nuisance liens, such as the $17 million in liens "for demolition and other nuisance work done between 1978 and 1999 on properties for which addresses and owners' names are missing."