September 16, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria performs inspections to eliminate squalid homes

ELYRIA — On the outside, a boarded-up home on Neufer Court — one of many the city hopes to raze in the coming months — looks the part of a dwelling that has had a rough life.

The paint is chipped, windows are smashed, the back porch has collapsed and the lot is overgrown with weeds. Still, many who drive by the structure may wonder if it can be salvaged with a little care.

On Tuesday morning, city officials sought to answer the question with an interior inspection that showed how abandoned and vacant homes rot on the inside over time without the attention of an owner.

The inspection is another step in the documentation process needed to slate blighted homes for demolition, a move the city is making rapidly after receiving more than $3 million in federal funds to do such work.

Elyria hopes to use a sizeable chunk of the money to demolish about 60 homes before the 18-month deadline to use the funds runs out. Work started several months ago and will continue until the goal is reached.

The city has to move fast because communities that have more homes ready to come down will see more money. Basically, it’s first come, first served, Mayor Holly Brinda said.

Abandoned homes are inspected each Tuesday. While the city will sometimes seek court orders to enter homes, Kevin Brubaker, operations manager of the Building Department, said most of the inspections he conducts are done under a city codified ordinance that allows him to legally enter abandoned homes.

Prior to going into the home, Brubaker said notices are sent through certified mail to the last known owner. After notices go unclaimed, the home is declared unsafe, and city officials can do what they need to document the inside of the home.

On this run, a swift kick to the frame did not offer residential inspector Raymond Langdon access to the home on Neufer.

After several minutes of prying with a crowbar, the door opened, freeing the first sign of the home’s hidden condition — the smell of trash, human waste and mold wafted out, mixing with the fresh air outside.

As Brubaker walked from room to room, he said he has been to the home before.

“It’s been vacant over a year, but before then the last family had to leave because it was infested with roaches,” he said. “There was a woman with at least five kids living in this home and after they left we told the owner he had to get rid of the bugs. He lost the home soon after that.”

There were still signs of domestic life mixed with the abundance of trash there Tuesday — curtains, albeit tattered ones, on the windows, silk flowers tacked above a doorway and a dirty Little Tikes kids table pushed into a corner. Destruction was just as evident. A hole in the roof let water and moisture into the house.

Langdon and Brubaker were accompanied by fire inspector Paul Males and Dave Oakes, director of environmental health. Neither has the power to condemn a home or ordered it demolished, but their reports from a safety and health perspective carry a lot of weight toward covering the city’s liability.

“It’s always good to have a perspective from everyone involved,” Males said. “Once I do a walkthrough, I can safely tell the fire chief that even our guys should not be in the house in case of a fire.”

Langdon will also write up a similar report, noting building code violations.

“I already know what my recommendation will be,” he said as he backed away from an upstairs bathroom where human feces filled a bathtub.

After individual recommendations on a home’s future are submitted, Brubaker said, a report is forwarded to the safety service director, who decides if it should be tagged with a 10-day repair or demolish notice.

“But the hope is they eventually end up going to the land bank,” Brubaker said.

Fifty-eight such homes are on that path, and another 20 were recently added. After walking through the home on Neufer Court, Brubaker and others headed to a home on Water Street to repeat the process, which was eerily similar.

“Man, this one looks like it does after we put out a fire,” Males said upon seeing what was once a kitchen in the moldy, mildewed home.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.