July 30, 2014

Elyria
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Are you safe? Inspection law hasn’t been enforced

LORAIN — Since 1997, Building Department officials have sent thousands of notices to landlords warning them to either comply with a rental inspection or face fines and possible jail time.
But until Monday, not a single case ever was referred to the city’s Law Department.
 “This is the first case I’ve received where we are citing the owner of a property,” Law Director Mark Provenza said. “As far as I can tell, the majority of landlords in Lorain are not qualified.”
William Desvari, chief building official for Lorain, sent a notice to landlord Albert Elias on Aug. 18, 2006, warning him that legal action would be taken if he did not comply with an inspection by Aug.  31, 2006. 
Despite the warning, no legal action was taken against Elias until nearly one year later, after one of his four rental properties went up in flames July 3 and left a family homeless. Provenza said it was the Building Department’s responsibility to follow up on landlords who failed to comply. But Desvari, who estimates that thousands of landlords in Lorain are not certified to house tenants, said he doesn’t have the manpower needed to keep up with inspections and ensure that non-compliant landlords are getting a day in court.
Other city officials believe Lorain’s housing inspection law is more ambitious than its means.
“The city bit off more than they could handle with the current legislation,” said Councilman Tony Krasienko, D-at large. “Our current legislation is not effective. We started running before we could walk.”
Currently, rental property owners are required to have the interior and exterior of a home inspected before they can receive rental certification from the city. If the house fails inspection, the owner does not receive certification until the problems are fixed. Krasienko said moving toward exterior-only inspections would help to streamline the inspection process and ensure that landlords are being held responsible. He did admit however, that moving toward exterior-only inspections does have drawbacks.
“Interior inspections look for proper ventilation and electrical hazards, safety issues,” Krasienko said. “We are not effective in doing that right now.”
Mayor Craig Folitn, who himself failed to obtain certification for his rental properties in 2004, said the city needs to start enforcing the warnings sent to landlords. All of his properties now are certified, he said.
“We have to be able to follow up on these cases,” Foltin said.
Foltin said hiring more inspectors could be a viable solution, but said he does not know if the city can afford the cost.
Contact Ben Norris at 329-7119 or bnorris@chroniclet.com.