Vacant building solution discussed by committee

EAST LIVERPOOL —“It is worse than I ever dreamed,” East Liverpool housing inspector Bob Smith said as recounted some of the residential structures that he has had to visit for health and building violations within the city.

Councilman Brian Kerr, who serves on the economic development committee for city council, said, “What is your resolution to this?” after Smith showed members some of the situations he had encountered with rental properties within the city boundaries.

The biggest issues seem to center around five landlords in town, he explained.

During their meeting Wednesday, the committee considered possible changes to the city’s vacant buildings ordinance and their enforcement but also how to deal with these five landlords, many of which transfer dilapidated properties under lease-purchase agreements to the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Smith talked about homes at 1211 Erie, where a toilet graces the hallway, and 1213 Erie Street, where Smith alleged the adults were paying $500 per month on a land contract and he had to call children’s services after discovering eight inches of trash on the interior.

According to the Columbiana County Auditor’s website, Aaron and Joanna Stevens are registered as the owner of both properties, but when it comes to enforcement, that is not the case, Smith adds. “He is not the landlord but instead the bank on paper,” he said. “These people are thrilled because they now own a home.”

There are similar stories hailing from 208 Pennsylvania, 144 Fawcett, 746 Minerva, and 705 Lincoln – all owned by Stevens.

Council candidate Linda Ziegler listening from the audience as Smith unveils the city’s unfortunate non-so-hidden secret (complete with video evidence), asks? “Can we educate these people? (referring to the leasees).

Smith said that he has tried.

John Mercer, who chairs the economic development committee, agrees with Smith that the system is broken.

Smith tells Mercer there are in all 20 land contracts (many with Stevens) completed in the city of East Liverpool.

With only a few weeks under his belt, Smith said that most of these dilapidated properties, filled with trash, uncut trash and falling apart (some for decades) have not necessarily been reported to him. “I stop and knock when I drive and look around,” he explained. “What I find is shocking.”

As he concluded his comments, Smith reminded council committee members the important task at hand: “Don’t stomp on everybody’s rights by overlegislation it.” In other action, the committee discussed minimum maintenance requirements attached to vacant storefronts and noted while there are items on the books legislating it, the city fails to enforce them. “We need to stop the demolition by neglect mentality,” Mercer noted, adding that a city Historic Conservation Board may not even be active.

Copies of Urbana’s vacant building enforcement program was distributed to members for consideration as possible amendments to the city’s current policy.

A planned discussion on mothballing historic buildings did not occur due to time constraints, but members received copy of the 11-page National Park System article detailing the process for a future meeting. Mercer also distributed articles on national franchises within a community, like Dunkin Donuts and dollar stores.


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