“Slum landlord!” a man screamed from a car that drove by George Schneider last month as he stood by one of his properties at 109 W. 29th St. in Lorain.
“That’s probably somebody I evicted or a relative of somebody I evicted,” Schneider said.
Through May 1, Schneider had received 57 code violations on Lorain properties he owns from the Nuisance Inspection Task Force, the most of any property owner in Lorain. Schneider also has clashed with Elyria officials over the condition of his properties there, but he said he is not a slumlord.
Schneider, who owns approximately 169 properties in Lorain County, said he works hard to keep them in good condition and said most of the violations are minor. Schneider blames bad tenants and vandals for the poor condition of some properties.
He said thieves steal copper piping and gutters from vacant homes to sell for scrap. Tenants sometimes trash his properties when they leave.
“Those 57 violations, a lot of that stuff was stuff that people stole that I didn’t have control over,” he said. “That’s where most of our trouble comes from. People stealing.”
Despite being frequently cited — a Lorain City Hall intern said she had Schneider’s address memorized from all the letters sent to him — Schneider said he supports the task force as long as it doesn’t selectively enforce laws.
“They’re doing a good job,” he said. “I’m glad they’re doing it.”
While many of his properties aren’t up to code, Schneider isn’t living in a gated community in the suburbs while letting his inner-city properties rot. Schneider’s home at 1214 W. 26th St., in Lorain is no McMansion.
Shrubbery overran part of the front porch last month. The driveway was crowded with an old Lorain Metropolitan Housing Authority truck, two pickups and garbage cans when Schneider drove up onto the front lawn in his battered pickup. Stooped and walking with a limp with one eye closed, he appeared older than his 50 years.
A landlord since 1984, Schneider first worked with his father, also named George Schneider. The elder Schneider died in 1995.
“That was my dad’s dream,” Schneider said of being a property owner. “I was a little reluctant, but then I went to a seminar at LCCC (Lorain County Community College), and it sounded good and I told him, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a try.’”
Some of the tenants Schneider said he rents to are poor and receive assistance from Section 8, a federal housing voucher program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Some landlords refuse to take Section 8 tenants and Schneider said if he didn’t rent to them, they might be homeless.
Schneider said he screens tenants, but good tenants have always been hard to find. Schneider said he tries to give tenants who are late on paying rent extra time rather than immediately beginning eviction procedures.
“A lot of people wouldn’t,” he said.
Bill Barney, president of the Lake Erie Landlords Association, said he’s known Schneider since about 1993. Barney, who said the association has about 450 members, said Schneider is getting a bum rap.
Unlike Schneider, Barney said many landlords won’t rent to poor tenants. While conceding he hasn’t seen Schneider’s properties, Barney said he thinks city officials pick on Schneider because he’s an easy target.
“He’s a nice guy, and I’d like to see him treated better,” Barney said.
Schneider tenant Mark Feather said Schneider has always been responsive since Feather moved into 502 W. 18th St., in 2010. When someone broke a second-floor window in an attempted break-in April 27, Feather said the window was boarded up within an hour.
“Any time I needed something, he was always there,” Feather said.
Mike Mincy, who lives near a vacant Schneider property at 969 Washington Ave., at the corner of West 10th Street, also was supportive. Mincy, who said he unsuccessfully tried to get contracting work from Schneider, said the two-floor, wood-framed house remains in pretty good shape despite being empty for about a year. Mincy said tenants who trash Schneider’s homes when they leave are more responsible for blighted properties than Schneider.
“If you’re limited on your funds, it takes a while to get them fixed up,” Mincy said. “He tries to help people out. He just gets screwed over a lot.”
However, Richard Edmonds said Schneider is no victim. Schneider owns the rundown home next to Edmonds at 515 W. 17th St., and an abandoned home a couple houses down at 505 W. 17th St. Standing by his industrial vacuum cleaner in April, Edmonds prepared to clean his home at 513 W. 17th St.
Edmonds, who bought the well-kept home in 1989, said he takes pride in it, but plans to move because of increasing blight, crime and noise in the neighborhood that he said used to be quiet. He doesn’t expect to get much money when he sells because of blight.
“George is a big contributor to that problem,” Edmonds said.
Edmonds said several tenants have lived in the property next door since Schneider bought it in 2009 and all have complained that Schneider is slow to make repairs. Edmonds said addicts and prostitutes have used the house at 505 W. 17th St., which he said was abandoned when Schneider bought it in 2008.
The house is slated for demolition by the city, and it can’t come soon enough for next-door neighbors Tameka Cheers and Bernice Williams. They say their afraid to let their children play outside due to fears that they’ll be bitten by possums that use the home or cut by bottles strewn in the backyard.
“I’m tired of looking at it,” Williams said. “You never know who’s back there and who’s living there.”
Elyria officials are also unhappy with Schneider. Law Director Scott Serazin said officials met with Schneider and he agreed to make repairs to several properties he owns.
“He has not followed through,” Serazin said.
Schneider disagrees and singles out improvements at properties at 404 Bell Ave., and 1226 Lake Ave. The Bell Avenue property had an abandoned car in the backyard with a gutter on top of it last month, but Michael Drummer, whose father lives next door, said Schneider has made improvements since the home burned several years ago.
“He has people picking things up,” Drummer said. “He’s trying.”
Other than a boarded-up second-floor side window, the outside of the Lake Avenue home looked good last month.
“This house is super nice,” said a tenant who wouldn’t give his name but said he moved in last month.
Rey Carrion recalls first meeting Schneider in 1993 or 1994 when Carrion was a Section 8 housing inspector for the housing authority. Carrion, now Lorain’s acting community development director, said he was shocked at the decrepit condition of the house Schneider wanted him to inspect.
“I said, “Are you kidding?’” Carrion recalled. “I walked out without even doing it.”
Carrion said Schneider has been quicker to make repairs in recent years. Nonetheless, Carrion said Schneider seems overwhelmed.
“He has too many properties, and he wants to do it all himself,” Carrion said.
Carrion cited Jay Metals, a property Schneider owns at 1965 E. 28th St. Carrion said it’s a mess and Schneider has been slow to clean it up.
Carrion said at prosecutor’s hearings on June 4 and 5 in Lorain Municipal Court that 53 properties were discussed, including nine owned by Schneider. Seven were found to not be in compliance after being re-inspected. The properties were referred to Lorain’s Law Department and the city prosecutor’s office. Schneider could face fines and jail time.
Schneider said the prosecutor’s office has been patient in the past. Rather than immediately imposing fines, he said the office has given him time to make repairs.
“Then if you don’t do it, it’s your own fault,” he said.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer said he doesn’t buy the argument that Schneider is doing the best he can.
“You look at some of the cost of what Mr. Schneider and others have paid for properties. They’re pennies on the dollar, yet no dollars are put into updating the property,” Ritenauer said.
Carrion said Lorain is trying to avoid having another massive round of costly demolitions because homes have been allowed to decline. The goal is to gain compliance rather than singling out individual property owners like Schneider for punishment, but Carrion said Schneider has to do better.
“We don’t want Lorain to look like a dumping ground,” he said. “It’s not going to be tolerated. People in this city deserve better.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.