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Harsher Penalties Planned for Negligent Property Owners

Walker Evans Walker Evans Harsher Penalties Planned for Negligent Property OwnersBlighted homes along E. Markison Avenue. Photo by Anne Evans.
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Property owners that ignore orders from code enforcement may soon face harsher penalties. Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman is asking City Council to approve an update to City Code that double the maximum fine from $500 to $1000 and triple the maximum jail time from 60 days to 180 days. Business penalties would also jump from a maximum of $3000 to $5000 for noncompliance.

“Those whose disregard has led to blight in our neighborhoods must be held accountable,” said Coleman. “If they are unmotivated to take care of their properties by their consciences, perhaps they will be motivated by the prospect of jail time.”

The new legislation has been updated in collaboration with City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer, which also increases violations from a third degree misdemeanor to a first degree misdemeanor.

“We are serious about holding negligent property owners responsible for their failures to maintain their properties so that our neighborhoods do not deteriorate and lose their values,” said Pfeiffer.

In addition to the updated penalties, Coleman is also proposing a nearly $600,000 budgetary boost to hire eight additional code enforcement officers that can proactively address target areas that suffer from the most blight.

For additional discussion on code enforcement in Columbus, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

For more information, visit development.columbus.gov.

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  • firesareburning

    As a resident of the King Lincoln District who is struggling, along with my neighbors, with vacant and abandoned houses on our two blocks (10 vacant/abandoned in the heart of the King Lincoln District right next to the King Arts Center on North Monroe and around the corner from the Lincoln Theatre – two assets that the city has invested millions in and isn’t tending to blocks incredibly proximate to them), this news is incredibly welcome but inspires little hope.

    The vacant and abandoned situation on our blocks is due to non-enforcement of vacant and abandoned policy and city code and poor city and state public policy that gives vacant and abandoned property owners as much if not more rights in our neighborhood than homeowners and renters.

    My house is flanked by two properties on either side that have been vacant for an unbelievable 30 years.

    The real key in this change in public policy has to be the enforcement of these penalties and holding vacant and abandoned property owners accountable. Rarely to this point has this happened. Columbus is well known as being one of – if not the weakest – big city in Ohio for dealing with vacant and abandonment issues.

    To me, what’s most distressing is that there’s zero mention of the city attempting something innovative and imposing an actual, significant annual fee (or fine or tax) to OWN a vacant or abandoned property. At this point I believe such a fee is a mere $100 paid once to register the property with the city.

    This fee needs to be at least $1,000 annually. That amount, added to the tax bill of vacant properties, would make owners simply holding on to them think twice about such ventures. Such a fee would greatly help rocket up back taxes and fees on these properties and hopefully lead to the city pursuing legal action against them quicker.

    It’s not well known that as long as a city property is up to minimal code requirements and taxes are paid it can remain vacant for 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, 50, 100 years and more. This toughening of penalties does nothing to address that issue. (Think about this fact if you live in a redeveloped neighborhood in the city – a long-term vacancy issue or issues could be headed your way and there’s little you can do about it.)

    For an interesting and recent blog posting on this issue and how it’s affecting my and my neighbor’s blocks (with a focus on an LLC company called Win Trust Homes), check out this link on the CU messageboard.


    For pictures of two of the properties that have been vacant for at least a decade, click here:

    236 North Monroe Avenue which has been owned by Win Trust since 2/16/12 (almost a year) and was purchased for $2,000.00 (Cream with Salmon Trim)

    http:[email protected]/sets/72157639599221995/

    244- 246 North Monroe Avenue purchased by WinTrust Homes CT LLC 11/7/2013 for $20,000 (Red Brick half double)

    http:[email protected]/sets/72157639601036063/

    To leave this post on a hopeful note, the City – from code to Council – has now had its eyes turned toward our blocks. The next few weeks will be interesting to see what promises – and hopefully progress – can be made in the coming months.

  • labi

    This is a step. And the additional code officers are a step. We’ll see how effectively they are actually used to improve conditions in neighborhoods that need this help. The city has been making promises since the 50s, but little has changed. I hope this will be different.

  • Matthew

    The city demo’d 194 N Wayne this past Friday, about a week and a half after it was reported. I haven’t seen a response that fast, ever.

  • Geno99

    This will frustrate a lot of the perennial firebugs this summer. This is good news, though. If Columbus can pull this off it will be a huge, huge step in making the city better. Coleman is the man, I don’t care what anyone says; the guy is a juggernaut.

    I also agree with ‘firesarburning’ post above that they have to impose an annual fee, because it’s much harder to jail corporations that own properties.

  • firesareburning

    Matthew –

    That’s awesome that 194 has been demo’d!

    An update on one of the ones that we’re struggling with – 236 North Monroe. The story has shifted yet again about a potential buyer. There’s now another investor that’s been around that may take the property off of Win Trust’s hands. Code has threatened Win Trust with fines and up to jail time if the violations aren’t fixed by February 3rd.

    The story of the new “investor” has changed from wanting the house to rehab as an investment property to that of he and his wife looking for a home for 3 to 4 years from now. (As if the neighbors on my block will tolerate the house sitting for another 3 to 4 years.) This investor claims that his experience in rehab involves buying a few houses around Children’s Hospital for $20,000 and investing another $20,000. (If anyone has done truly reputable rehab you know how little $20,000 gets you – especially given the condition of a lot of properties on the Near East Side.)

    Also, the owner of Win Trust has changed his “any day now” promise on 244 North Monroe to “sometime in the near future” due to permits and other plans having to be finalized. His attitude in emails to me has been that of disregard for both myself and my neighbors – proving once again that he’s here to make his profit and go.

  • Eugene_C

    Take the profit out of it and the problem will go away. Raise the cost of business for these vultures.

  • Ned23

    I’ve been fixing up my old house to sell but there is a house next to it that was abandoned for foreclosure and is falling apart. Someone bought it but hasn’t done much too it except keep the yard trimmed. There are open windows, and missing shingles. It’s very annoying and it’s going to make it difficult for me to recoup my investment in the house I’ve been fixing up, because people don’t want to live next to that and my price will take a hit. So the bad owners are actually discouraging the good owners from improving neighborhoods. It’s a downward spiral. I really hope they do something on this.

  • firesareburning

    Ned – welcome to the wonderful world of living in a transitional neighborhood in a city with weak public policy and weak enforcement of vacant and abandoned properties. The irony is that both our city council president and mayor have neighborhoods as one of their key foci, but there is little innovative, bold and even courageous coming from city hall in terms of public policy on vacant and abandoned properties. (Part of the reason for this, I’m sure, is that I’m guessing very few to zero city council members or even the mayor live in neighborhoods in transition. They – and their children if they have any – simply don’t live these realities every day.)

    The hugely ironic thing about city code and public policies around vacant and abandoned properties as they stand today is that they allow for the future decay of revitalized neighborhoods such as Victorian Village, German Village, Italian Village, the core of Olde Towne East, etc. As these neighborhoods redeveloped I’m sure there’s been decades of the same outcry to the city regarding vacant and abandoneds – and yet and others see where we still are today.

    I would encourage you to fill out 311 forms but definitely use your own name. If you fill out a request as a guest things seem to move slower. Also, not sure what neighborhood you’re in, but you might want to contact your neighborhood association or area commission. They may be of some help!

  • FYI from http://mideastareacc.com/news.html

    Meet the New Environmental Judge and Code Enforcement Staff
    Concerned about vacant and dilapidated houses, inoperable vehicles, trash, garbage and other unsafe conditions in your community? What can be done?
    The MACC Presents: Environmental Judge Daniel R. Hawkins
    Franklin County Municipal Court – Environmental Division

    AND the City of Columbus, Department of Development, Code Enforcement
    January 28th – 6:30 to 8 p.m.
    Christ United Methodist Church
    1480 Zettler Rd.

    This event is for residents of the ENTIRE EASTSIDE! Don’t miss this opportunity to ask questions concerning code issues in your neighborhood and the process to solve them!

  • firesareburning

    Thanks CbusHistoryLibrarian!! It’s good that the drumbeat of dissatisfaction with the vacant and abandoned situation is picking up pace. Now if only city policy makers will stick their necks out on the issue and create and ensure policy enforcement that guarantees that responsible homeowners and renters have more rights in their neighborhood than the holders of vacants and abandons do.

    It will be great to attend, learn more and ask an important question or two.

  • FYI:

    The MACC meeting scheduled for Tuesday, January 28th has been cancelled due to weather. We hope to reschedule for March 18th.

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