December 21, 2014

Elyria
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30°F
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Lorain inspection law under fire

LORAIN — Everyone agrees many homes in Lorain need improvement, but there was sharp disagreement Monday about whether mandating housing inspections will do the trick.

A proposed “point-of-sale” inspection ordinance would require single or two-family home property owners to get an inspection and rectify violations within 90 days before sales. If uncorrected, buyer or seller must put repair money — between $100 and $15,000 — into escrow. Sales 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.

A $100 inspection fee would pay for a full-time inspector with inspections beginning in January. Council may vote on the proposal July 29.

About 100 people attended a City Council hearing on the ordinance. Proponents said inspections would discourage absentee landlords and speculators “flipping” cheap, rundown properties without making repairs.

“If we don’t do anything, we’re going to perpetuate blight,” Mayor Chase Ritenauer told the audience. “It’s a quality-of-life issue.”

Opponents said inspections would decrease sales and punish buyers and sellers who can’t afford repairs. Homeowner Richard Watchhorn said he has spent about $45,000 on his home at 668 Hamilton Ave. since buying it for $63,000 in 1991.

Watchorn said his home is “underwater” — worth less than market value — and he couldn’t afford repairs if he tried to sell. “You need to leave the homeowners alone and go after these rental properties, which are laying down on the ground,” Watchhorn told Ritenauer.

Landlord Vassie Scott, Lake Erie Landlord’s Association legislative chairman, said he’s spent $120,000 on five rental properties this year, $25,000 on repairs and $15,000 in property taxes. Scott said the ordinance needs to be tweaked making it easier to access escrow money for repairs

“Allow me to run my business as efficient as possible,” said Scott, also a member of the Lorain County Community Action Agency board. “If I choose to buy in Lorain and put quality tenants in there, do not slow me down.”

Michael Brosky, vice president and secretary of First Federal Savings of Lorain, said more than 55 percent of loans his bank financed wouldn’t have been possible under the ordinance, because buyers or sellers couldn’t afford repairs.

However, homeowner Beth Henley, of 2923 Cleveland Blvd., said the ordinance would reduce blight. “If we don’t do something, we are just going to continue to flush ourselves right down the commode,” she said.

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