December 20, 2014

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Frustration grows over properties cited by city of Lorain for chronically tall grass

Will Ammons, of 1244 W. 19th St. in Lorain, looks at the chronically unmowed and unmaintained property next door to his home at 1246 W. 19th St on Aug. 1. Steve Manheim

Will Ammons, of 1244 W. 19th St. in Lorain, looks at the chronically unmowed and unmaintained property next door to his home at 1246 W. 19th St on Aug. 1.
Steve Manheim

Bryan Kuehn said he peeks out his back door before stepping into the backyard of the home he lives in at 1218 W. Seventh St.

Kuehn lives across from an abandoned home at 1223 W. Sixth St. Groundhogs, possums, raccoons and skunks live under the porch of the home and inhabit the high grass in the backyard. Kuehn said the critters frequently come into his yard and the yards of his neighbors and have killed two neighbors’ puppies.

Kuehn keeps a trap in his backyard and said he has caught three groundhogs, eight possums and two skunks since April. Kuehn said he released some of the animals but was instructed by city officials to kill the possums.

Kuehn said he worries about himself or Mandy Burns, his fiancee, or Bryan Kuehn Jr., his 18-year-old son, being bitten. He also worries about his two dogs — Otis, an easygoing 10-year-old Labrador and Sasha, a 6-year-old pug — being bitten or killed.

“The animals are driving us nuts,” said Kuehn who said he’s considering moving when the mortgage on Burns’ home is paid in 2015. “It’s pretty disturbing.”

Kuehn lives next to one of the chronic violators of the ordinance, which requires property owners to cut grass that is eight inches or higher within five days of being notified by Lorain officials. Violators are fined $300 for every hour city contractors spend cutting the grass. Chronic violators are defined as property owners who’ve been fined at least three times since the city began hiring contractors to cut high grass in 2012.

The house at 1223 W. Sixth St. — which Lorain officials said is owned by EAI Investments LLC — was one of 12 chronic violator properties visited by The Chronicle-Telegram on Wednesday. Ten of the properties were abandoned homes and two were empty lots where homes were demolished.

Among the homes was one at 1246 W. 19th St. that the city said is owned by Roger and Theresa Dudley. Next door neighbor Will Ammons said feral cats, skunks and woodchucks that inhabit the high grass stink up the area and come into his backyard and destroy his garden.

“I can’t keep nothing back there,” said the 89-year-old Ammons, who said he’s trapped four or five woodchucks this year in his backyard.

Besides making properties bigger eyesores and drawing insects and critters, high grass outside an abandoned home can be an invitation to addicts, squatters and vandals. Nilca Rosario of 1043 W. 14th St., said her brother boarded up windows in the back of the abandoned home next store at 1039 W. 14th St. to keep people from getting in. The home is owned by Orlando Melendez and Carmen Naranjo, Lorain officials said.

Rosario, a mother of four children between 13- and 18-years-old, said it’s scary living next to an abandoned home. Rosario said she called police on a man she said was using drugs in the home earlier this year.

Safety/Service Director Robert Fowler said he’s sympathetic to residents like Rosario. Several residents living by chronic violators said lawns have been cut more since Lorain began hiring contractors, but Fowler said it’s hard to keep up.

There have been at least 1,300 complaints this year compared to about 950 last year, a nearly 37 percent increase. The complaints are a symptom of Lorain’s high foreclosure rate.
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.

Fowler said many of the properties are “zombie foreclosures” in which the homeowner has left after receiving a foreclosure notice from a bank. However, the bank hasn’t taken possession of the home, leaving the homeowner on the hook for maintenance and in some cases, property taxes. With 17,367 this year, Ohio was fourth in the nation for zombie foreclosures, according to Realty Trac.

Fines are attached as liens to properties, but Fowler said it’s hard to track down violators involved in zombie foreclosures. Lorain paid contractors about $40,000 to mow high grass in 2012, but just $23,000 in fines were paid. While unsure how to improve collection, Fowler said Lorain is considering giving contractors multiyear contracts to increase the high lawns mowed.

“It’s a public safety issue,” he said. “We just can’t get them cut fast enough.”

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