October 23, 2014

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Burned house wasn’t certified for renters

LORAIN — The owner of a West 22nd Street rental house that was ravaged by fire July 3 never applied for a rental inspection and did not hold the certificate required by law to house tenants, said William Desvari, chief building official.
Albert Elias, of North Olmsted, owns four rental properties in Lorain, none of which are legally qualified to house tenants.
Desvari said Elias faces fines of up to $1,000 for each house he owns and could be sentenced to 24 months in jail, six months for each house. Failure to comply with a rental inspection is a first-class misdemeanor in Lorain.
“He’s going to have to get his wallet out,” Desvari said. “We notified him last year that he needed an inspection and he thumbed his nose at us. Now it’s going to be up to a judge.”
The Lorain Building Department sent Elias notification in August 2006, stating that all four of his Lorain properties needed to be inspected and did not have proper certification, according to a copy of the notice.
In addition to the legal fines, Elias is responsible for the $10,000 cost of demolishing the West 22nd Street home.
Repeated attempts to reach Elias were unsuccessful.
Assistant Fire Chief Gary Burls said firefighters could not locate any smoke detectors after the West 22nd Street fire, which left a single mother of five homeless.
Had Elias complied with the inspection order, he would have been ordered to place smoke detectors in each sleeping room and one on every level of the two-story house, including the basement, Desvari said.
In Lorain, there is no shortage of landlords renting out single-family homes who avoid the $50 inspection requirement, renting out potentially dangerous properties to unsuspecting clients, Desvari said.
“We have sent out notices to around 10,000 rental owners,” Desvari said. “Only about 2,000 of those comply with an inspection.”
Nicole King, who rented the property on West 22nd Street, said she was told when she moved to the property in October 2006 that smoke detectors would be installed and general maintenance issues would be taken care of.
King lost everything she and her five children owned when a fire that started in a back downstairs bedroom spread through the walls and attic. There were no injuries, and no one was treated for smoke inhalation, said Roy Cochran, assistant fire chief for the Lorain Fire Department.
King said Family Services of Lorain will help her pay for the security deposit when she finds a new place to stay. Family Services also will help her pay the rent while she searches for a new job, King said.
After the fire, the Red Cross of Lorain County put King’s family up in a hotel and provided her with $900 to help with food and other basic needs, said John Vega, emergency services coordinator for the Red Cross.    
Desvari said the city can force Elias’ tenants in the other properties to move out because he failed to get the inspections.
“I don’t know why everyone runs from us on this issue,” Desvari said. “We do this for the safety of the neighborhood. You may not know when something is a safety issue and end up with deaths on your hands and your life is ruined.”
Contact Ben Norris at 329-7119 or bnorris@chroniclet.com.