July 25, 2014

Elyria
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House demolished before appeal was heard, owner says

LORAIN — On the same day a lawsuit was being filed to prevent the city from tearing down a house it deemed dilapidated, a work crew was busy pulling it to the ground.

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“Even as we were filing suit, we learned, to our amazement, the city had demolished the property,” attorney Brent English said.

The Cleveland lawyer is representing George Schneider, a Lorain man who owns numerous rental properties in the city and county, including the duplex that was at 500 W. 25th St. in Lorain.

The unoccupied house was torn down as English said he was in the process of filing suit to halt the demolition by seeking a temporary restraining order against the city.

English contends the house wasn’t slated to be torn down until later in the week as part of a weeklong demolition of housing declared nuisances to public health or safety.

“They had a contractor there despite the fact the house was scheduled for (demolition) Thursday,” English said. “We don’t know what happened, but the house is gone. Now we’ll be amending the suit to seek damages for wrongful destruction of my client’s property.”

English estimated he would seek damages in the $50,000 range for the value of the house.

“It appears they fast-tracked this to tear it down,” English said. “The same city that tore it down issued a permit to fix it,’’ English said. “Now they can just pay for it.”

The city is working to get rid of rundown homes via the Lorain County Land Bank and $3.2 million obtained through a state settlement with banks over improper foreclosure lawsuits.

Chief Building Official Richard Klinar, who is named in the suit along with the city and the county land bank, referred questions to Lorain Law Director Pat Riley, who said the city is looking into the merits of the litigation.

“We just received a copy of the suit, and we’re researching the allegations Mr. English made on behalf of his client,” Riley said. “We haven’t yet confirmed those allegations. It’s early on in the game.”

Last summer, Schneider and English opposed efforts by Elyria officials to condemn a South Maple Street house with more than 40 violations the city Building Department documented as proof the house needed to be razed.

In an appeal of the condemnation order to city officials, English said six months were needed to bring the property into compliance with city codes.

Elyria Law Director Scott Serazin said roughly six homes in the city owned by Schneider are in varying states of disrepair, and the city is working to reach a resolution on all of them, not just the one on South Maple Street.

“We are discussing coming to a resolution on which homes he would be fixing up in a very short period of time and which homes he would consent to being demolished,” Serazin said. “You can say we are trying to triage them from best to worst and are in settlement discussions to get the worst down.”

Serazin said dealing with Schneider has been a learning experience and has shown him that changes need to come to the condemnation process. Schneider is the only property owner who has fought the demolition of a vacant home, and the act has shown Serazin that there is no clear path to a resolution when someone objects.

Riley said Lorain officials know Schneider owns a number of properties in the city.

“We are well-versed in the fact Mr. Schneider owns several properties in Lorain and have dealt with him on other occasions, but I can’t say per se what those problems dealt with,” Riley said.

The lawsuit filed Monday claims Schneider was never notified by the city that his property was considered “dangerous,” and that he was never served with an order to barricade, repair, vacate or demolish the house.

Schneider went before Lorain’s Demolition Board of Review on Jan. 11 where he was told — for the first time, according to the suit — that the house was seen as a nuisance because of a problem with its foundation.

The suit said Schneider obtained a Building Department permit Dec. 28, 2012, to repair the foundation.

When he appeared again before the demolition board Jan. 18, he was told that despite the permit being issued, the board was “inclined” to tear down the house, according to the suit.

Last week, Schneider learned from a newspaper story that the house was one of a number of Lorain homes slated for demolition this week, English said.

The case has been assigned to Common Pleas Court Judge James Miraldi.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.