December 20, 2014

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Lorain Council to discuss mandatory pre-sale housing inspections

LORAIN — Proposed mandatory housing inspections before properties could be sold are expected to face opposition at a City Council public hearing tonight.

This blighted home at 505 W. 17th St., Lorain, owned by landlord George Schneider, is scheduled to be demolished by the city. Neighbors said it has been vacant since about 2008 when it burned in a fire. They worry about allowing their children to play near it because of broken bottles, raccoons and trash in the backyard. (CT photo by Evan Goodenow.)

This blighted home at 505 W. 17th St., Lorain, owned by landlord George Schneider, is scheduled to be demolished by the city. Neighbors said it has been vacant since about 2008 when it burned in a fire. They worry about allowing their children to play near it because of broken bottles, raccoons and trash in the backyard. (CT photo by Evan Goodenow.)

The “point-of-sale” inspection ordinance mandates owners of single or two-family homes to get an inspection and be up to code before selling the homes. Search warrants would be obtained by Lorain’s Building Department to inspect the homes if the owner refused to comply.

If violations are found, the owner would have 90 days to correct them. If uncorrected, the owner must put the amount necessary for repairs into an escrow account or the buyer can put the money into the account.

An inspection certificate would then be issued. Building inspectors would determine the amount for repairs, but the accounts must be at least $100 and not exceed $15,000.

Title transfers would be blocked until repairs are made and failure to make repairs could result in first-degree misdemeanor convictions and up to six months imprisonment, a $1,000 fine or both. Owners could appeal inspection findings to the Housing Board of Appeals.

The proposal is similar to South Euclid’s vacant housing registry, which blocks transfers until repairs are made. South Euclid officials said the registry — credited with bringing about 500 houses up to code and 200 into stages of compliance since its enactment in 2010 — has increased accountability and reduced blight.

Those are the goals of the Lorain proposal, but Bill Barney, president of the approximately 450-member Lake Erie Landlords Association, predicts it will slow sales if enacted. Barney said real estate investors will bypass Lorain. “It’s going to create more vacant homes,” Barney said.

Loraine Ritchey strongly disagreed in a June 30 letter to Mayor Chase Ritenauer. Ritchey, co-chair of the Charleston Village Society, a neighborhood improvement group, wrote that landlords defeated a similar proposal in 2006. Citing statistics from the Lorain County auditor’s office, Ritchey said Lorain property values have declined about 22 percent since the 2007 proposal was torpedoed.

“Not having a point-of-sale inspection has in fact caused a blight of epidemic proportions in our older neighborhoods,” Ritchey wrote. “We have experienced the dangers of abandoned property — fires, drug deals and assaults.”

Ritchey pointed out that landlords crowded Council Chambers when the proposal was placed on the Council agenda last month — the matter was referred to tonight’s hearing without discussion — and she expects another big turnout.

Ritchey said some of the landlords with the most property in Lorain received the most code violations from Lorain’s Nuisance Inspection Task Force in its first year, including landlords George Schneider and Kent Sutton. They topped the list with 57 and 48 violations, respectively.

Ritchey — who said her home’s property value has plummeted from $84,000 to less than the $22,000 she paid for it in 1973 — said landlords need to be more accountable for their properties.

“I am not painting all rentals and landlords with the same dirty brush, but there are enough of them who do the minimum afflicting this community in a very negative way,” Ritchey wrote. “My home, being 87 years old, would probably not meet a point-of-sale inspection, but I welcome the ordinance.”

Since the proposal was drafted, Ritenauer said he’s spoken to association members and representatives from the Lorain County Association of Realtors, which represents more than 600 real estate agents, according to its website. Ritenauer said opinions vary among members, but he doesn’t believe the ordinance will discourage sales.

Ritenauer said Cleveland Heights and Mayfield Heights have similar ordinances in addition to South Euclid. He said the proposal will increase property values, rewarding property owners who play by the rules. And Ritenauer said it will discourage flipping, in which speculators buy cheap, rundown properties and quickly sell them for a profit without refurbishing them.

“They’re perpetuating blight,” he said. “If it does slow down the sales of houses that ought to be condemned, then I would support that.”

If you go

  • What: A City Council public hearing on a “point-of-sale” housing inspections ordinance.
  • Where: Council Chambers, City Hall, 200 W. Erie Ave., Lorain
  • When: 6 tonight

Increasing inspections

A proposed ordinance would require “point-of-sale” housing inspections to reduce blight. Among the requirements and penalties:

Inspection violations must be corrected within 90 days unless an extension is granted. Inspections must be done yearly until the property is sold.

If violations are not corrected, an escrow account is established to cover costs. The account minimum is $100 and maximum is $15,000. The buyer has the option of assuming responsibility for repairs and putting the money into the account.

Included with the inspection certificate is a written agreement between the buyer and seller about who is responsible for repairs.

Those failing to comply could be found guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor and face up to six months imprisonment or a $1,000 fine or both.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.