April 19, 2014

Elyria
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High lawns at vacant properties keep contractors busy

Cut and run is a good strategy for Mike Molnar. Molnar, owner of Amherst-based Molnar Express Inc., is one of two contractors hired by the city to cut high grass at vacant and poorly maintained homes and properties.

Mike Molnar, of Molnar’s Express Inc., mows the tall grass in Lorain. The grass reached 6 feet tall on Tuesday. (CT photo by Kristin Bauer.)

Mike Molnar, of Molnar’s Express Inc., mows the tall grass in Lorain. The grass reached 6 feet tall on Tuesday. (CT photo by Kristin Bauer.)

Molnar said his company has cut between 75 and 150 properties per week since being hired in May. Lorain’s high foreclosure rate has made high grass an annual problem and keeps Molnar busy.

Heavy rainfall earlier this month has delayed mowing. City Council members decreased the length for violations from 10 inches last year to 6 inches earlier this year, but, on July 15, increased the violation height to 8 inches to account for heavy rainfall making cutting grass harder.

Property owners have five days after being notified to cut grass that is 8 inches or higher before contractors are notified. However, there is usually a lag time between Lorain officials notifying Molnar and him finding the time to cut grass.

So the nearly 6-foot-high grass Molnar cut Tuesday in a lot behind 4375 Oberlin Ave. was typical of the properties he and his workers mow. Molnar said neighbors at some of the vacant homes where he mows said the lawns haven’t been cut in three or four years.

Molnar, whose late father, Robert Molnar, started the construction and contracting company in 1980 — the Molnars aren’t related to Councilwoman Anne Molnar, D-at large — said most neighbors are happy when his crews show up. The only unhappy people are property owners who know they’re being fined.

“You can’t make everybody happy, but the majority of the people are happy to see you,” Molnar said. “They know it cleans the neighborhood up and makes it a lot nicer place to live.”

This is the first year Molnar was contracted by Lorain, which began hiring contractors in 2012. The other contractor is Lorain-based JBE Landscape Management. The city spent $40,000 on lawn contractors in 2012, according to Mayor Chase Ritenauer who said the 1,265 complaints through Friday is up about 33 percent from last year.

Ritenauer wrote in a Sunday email that nearly all of the high lawns are at vacant foreclosed properties. Or the homeowner has walked away from the home because it is underwater, meaning it is worth less than what is owed on it.

In some cases, in what are known as “zombie foreclosures,” the homeowner has left after receiving a foreclosure notice from a bank. However, the bank hasn’t taken possession leaving the homeowner on the hook for the maintenance, and in some cases property taxes, of the property. Citing Realty Trac, CBS News reported in April that there are 302,000 zombie foreclosures nationally.

Ritenauer said most problems with vacant homes involve out-of-town banks, but Ohio needs to tighten the foreclosure and short sale process. Short sales are sales for less than a property is worth to reduce homeowner penalties. “The longer those processes, the more maintenance issues cities will have,” Ritenauer wrote.

Molnar’s problems Tuesday primarily involved the 90-degree heat and the size of the lot.

The approximately 100-yard by 175-yard lot Molnar cut was larger than the typical properties his company cuts, which are about 60- by 90-feet on average. Molnar estimated the lot would take between one and two hours to cut on his 37-horsepower industrial mower.

Two-man crews are usually used by the company, which Molnar said devotes between 10 and 15 of its approximately 25 workers to mowing. Crews have to watch out for rocks and debris when cutting and make sure neighbors don’t cross their path.

Molnar said no one wants to live by a blighted property with high grass or open a business near one. “Tearing down these (blighted) houses and cutting the grass, it’s got to help,” Molnar said.

One in every 432 homes was in foreclosure in Lorain in June, according to Realty Trac, a real estate website. The rate was substantially higher than the Lorain County rate of one in 567, the overall Ohio rate of one in 648 and the national rate of one every 1,025.

Slow to mow

  • Lorain property owners are required to cut grass that is 8 inches or higher, but high lawns are a big problem because of Lorain’s high foreclosure rate and absentee property owners.
  • Property owners have five days after being notified to cut high grass.
  • Property owners are fined $300 for each hour city employees or contractors spend cutting high grass.
  • Fines are attached to property liens after 30 days. Eight violators have paid this year.
  • Through Friday, there had been 1,236 complaints of high grass.
  • Owners are designated as chronic violators if they’ve been fined three or more times. There are 265 chronic violators.

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

  • Bonnie Pickett

    A few years ago it rained every day and the week before our tractor had a broken piece that had to be ordered. They sent us a notice and when we called to inform them that we would cut it as soon as it stopped raining, they had no sympathy. The worker got down on his knees to photograph a clump of longer grass around a meter (witnessed by a neighbor) and they did fine us $300. When we complained about a large city lot close by that had NEVER been mowed and a property owned by a local attorney that was over 2-3 inches higher than ours (in the same block), we were told they couldn’t mow it because of the rainfall. You just can’t win!!

  • http://www.superyards.ca/ Superyards

    Interesting post, are the landowners fined and charged with the cost of the city service?