November 24, 2014

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Inspections: Salvage yards skirt safety in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — Nearly all of Cleveland’s 101 scrap, junk and auto-wrecking yards failed city safety inspections this year, according to the city’s Building and Housing Department.

Mayor Frank Jackson ordered the inspections after a barrage of residents complained that the yards were dirty, noisy and spilling junk out into residential neighborhoods.

City inspectors have since cited 97 junkyards for safety and cleanliness violations, like cars that are piled too high or a lack of fencing, said Ed Rybka, the head of the department, which oversees code enforcement.

“I don’t think any of them were in full compliance,” he said.

Department inspectors are working to improve the appearance and reputation of junkyards in neighborhoods by urging them to install opaque fences, which would hide junk and help prevent mud and dirt from being tracked into residential areas, Rybka said.

In one case, the city cited Moore Towing for operating without the city’s permission and failing to maintain the outside of its property.

The green fence surrounding the junkyard is dilapidated, exposing piles of engine parts and wrecked cars, according to documents.

A phone number listed for the company has been disconnected.

Another scrap yard was found to be operating illegally on city-owned land, and now faces eviction.

Many junkyard owners head to Cleveland Housing Court to appeal their violations to the city’s Board of Building Standards. Housing

Court Judge Ray Pianka said he’s dealing with several dozen scrap dealer cases — junkyards that are fighting citations, paying fines or being forced to comply with city codes.

It’s difficult to evict a junkyard from its property if it fails inspection, Pianka said. Once the city orders a scrap yard to leave, all the junk becomes the city’s problem, and the city must pay someone to remove it, he said.

A few junkyards have fixed problems and been approved by the city to operate, he said.

Rybka said inspectors are also doing their part to slow the continuing trend of copper thefts by citing junkyards that fail to photocopy and record the driver’s licenses of those who come in off the street to sell copper.

The city council raised fines for scrap dealers who don’t photocopy the licenses. Copper has become more valuable across the nation as the salvage price for the metal has quadrupled from 80 cents a pound in 2003 to around $3.35.