ELYRIA — The city Law Department has settled a long legal battle with businessman and property owner George Schneider
He’s the reason why Elyria decided it needed to create a Demolition Board of Appeals. He’s the landlord tagged with having received the most code violations from the city of Lorain’s Nuisance Inspection Task Force in its first year. County auditor records from 2013 peg him as the owner of 169 properties countywide.
With the settlement Schneider agrees to make needed repairs to eight Elyria homes and, in exchange, the city will halt its actions to legally force their demolition. Law Director Scott Serazin said the agreement gives the city four important things.
“Work will start immediately. He must use licensed tradespeople. We can get into any of the properties with a 48-hour notice, and we don’t have to send certified mail to multiple addresses to prove service,” Serazin said. “For Schneider, the money he would spend on legal fees and litigation can now be put into his properties.”
The agreement does not stop the city from going after other properties owned by Schneider if enforcement action is needed.
Serazin said the Building Department has ranked the homes, and the agreement calls for Schneider to start on the worst homes first. The homes are 249 Gates Ave., 217 Gates Ave., 239 Gates Ave., 341 West River Road N., 341½ West River Road N., 119 Parkview Court, 127 Parkview Court and 136 W. Bridge St.
“He’s got 75 days to make the necessary corrections to remedy the building code violations on each home,” Serazin said. “This keeps matters proceeding forward at a steady pace.”
As long as Schneider makes good-faith efforts to repair his homes, extensions will be given as needed.
“Based on what we see, repairs are going on. We will continue to watch him closely,” Serazin said. “When things get to the Common Pleas Court level, you can stall them indefinitely with motions and appeals. That just didn’t seem to be in the city’s or Mr. Schneider’s best interests — especially when both of us agree work needed to be done. It was just a matter of what needed to be done and how soon.”
It was the once-deplorable conditions of 352 S. Maple St. that got attention for Schneider from the city. For 2½ years, the city and Schneider battled in court.
As time progressed, the city went after more dilapidated houses owned by Schneider.
“I can’t speak for previous years, but housing code enforcement is now a priority in this office,” Serazin said. “The neighbors have a right to have the house next to them taken care of. And, in this case, we had an actual owner, not a bank or absentee owner, who we could force to do the repairs.”
Schneider, who estimates he owns fewer than 20 homes in Elyria — he didn’t have an exact number — said he is happy with the agreement because it keeps his homes standing.
“That’s all I wanted from the city is the time to do the work so I can get good people in those houses,” he said. “Another vacant lot that nobody mows don’t do anybody any good.”
He said the home on South Maple Street is an example of what he can do. He has tenants in that house and that money can be used to help with other repairs. The more tenants he acquires, the more work he can afford to have done.
“People like to give landlords a bad rap, but we are doing what we can to give people a good place to live,” he said. “We have our problems with tenants too with not paying, but in the end, all we want is good people in our houses.”
Schneider said he will use contractors licensed to work in the city and will abide by the timetable set in the agreement.
Sean Nichols, 31, of Gates Avenue, lives within a short walk to three houses owned by Schneider. He said he would welcome the repairs and can’t wait until they start.
“In the six years that I have lived here as a renter, there hasn’t been a single resident in any of the homes,” he said. “The street has enough problems without adding vacant homes to the mix. It’s kind of scary to have vacant homes in a neighborhood with so many kids around.”
Nichols said he often has to call the police about people trespassing at the homes, but “you can’t stop people from sneaking into these houses at 2:30 a.m.”
While Nichols is a proponent of demolition when necessary — two vacant homes on Gates Avenue already have been demolished and turned into community gardens — making the houses into homes through repairs is also important to help the neighborhood.
“We can’t keep tearing down houses and putting up gardens,” he said. “At some point, the owner has to step up and do their part.”
The South Maple Street home that started the city and Schneider down this road has been brought up to code with the Building Department signing off for tenant occupancy. It is rented and Serazin said the city is in the process of dropping its lawsuit against Schneider in relation to the property.
Councilman Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, lives across the street from the Maple Street house and was very vocal in expressing displeasure at the property’s condition.
“The house looks a lot better than it used to,” Madison said. “It was a source of blight for so many years and the fact that it is now up to code shows that Mr. Schneider is capable of doing the work when it needs to be done.”
The uniqueness of this agreement — it’s the first time the city has had to negotiate with the owner of multiple properties — provided the city with valuable learning experience, Madison said. Prior to Schneider, the city has not had to deal with a property owner fighting a condemnation and demolition order in court.
“It has shown us that, as a city, we have to have every tool available to work with property owners and make sure we hold them responsible,” he said. “This sets the bar for other cases that come down the road. We will work with our property owners, but they have to be responsive to concerns.”
Madison said he can’t wait until the other houses Schneider owns in his ward are brought up to code.