The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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At a housing committee meeting hosted by East Toledo Family Center community builder Jodi Gross as part of the One Voice for East Toledo initiative, much of the conversation is from residents talking about poorly kept properties.

The grass is overgrown, the home and garage are not being painted or properly maintained, the siding, gutters, and other fixtures are torn off, in disrepair, or missing, windows are broken, and sometimes buildings look ready to collapse.

Neighbors, meanwhile, are getting impatient because their property values are falling, the neighborhood appears increasingly blighted, and their safety is threatened.

Toledo Housing Court Judge C. Allen McConnell sees and hears cases concerning nuisance properties almost every day. East Toledo leaders regularly meet with McConnell to discuss housing issues in their neighborhoods.

McConnell says most nuisance properties result from homes in foreclosure or the homeowner does not have the funds to properly care for the home.

Judge McConnell believes the goal of the Housing Court should always be to enhance our neighborhoods and not merely to punish homeowners.

He says owners of homes pending foreclosure do not often realize they are still responsible for the care of the property.

“A lot of people simply walk away and think they have no further responsibility for the property, and when that occurs the property becomes vandalized, grass and weeds start growing up, eaves troughs may need repairing,” Judge McConnell said. “It’s just a variety of things happen to the property and that becomes a real headache in that neighborhood.”

Not only are homeowners who go through foreclosure still responsible for their property so too are those going through bankruptcy. Judge McConnell said a homeowner can’t just walk away unless the bankruptcy judge issued a release.

Judge McConnell says he is actively lobbying for the state legislature to take foreclosure cases out of common pleas court and give jurisdiction to housing court.

“If foreclosure proceedings were in my court, then I would be able to control letting the homeowner know, regardless of what their bankruptcy lawyer may have told them, you still have the responsibility for that property. You can’t walk away from it at anytime,” he said.

If a homeowner does not have the funds to maintain his home, there are resources that can help.

“Many times the court has some limited resources that we can assist people when they actually live in the property, but if they do not live in the property there are very few resources that the court can access to help them,” Judge McConnell said.

Judge McConnell has implemented many programs to enable home owners to bring their properties into compliance with housing and health codes. The most effective program has been the Code Violation Abatement Program that allows the court to provide assistance to violators up to $4,500 to bring their property into compliance.

The court employs housing specialists that assist violators in criminal and civil matters. The Court also sponsors neighborhood cleanups and beautification projects.

There are also community development organizations, like NeighborWorks that have programs or access to funds.

“What are always very helpful are the neighborhood associations — those groups try to deal with homeowners, try to enforce policies in their neighborhood to make sure people maintain their properties,” Judge McConnell said. “You don’t have that in every neighborhood, but the Old West End is a prime example, and East Toledo (groups) do well as well, but we have more property in East Toledo that’s in bad shape.”

Judge McConnell says a property owner who neglects his responsibility can be the catalyst for bringing down an entire neighborhood. “Those individuals who can afford and refuse, they need to face the penalty of the law, because they are neglecting the property and refuse to make the repairs and put resources into it.”

Bob Krompak, NeighborWorks economic development specialist, says Judge McConnell has his work cut out for him weighing between the problems of property owners and their neighbors’ need to protect their property values.

“I would not want to be in Judge McConnell’s position, because he has to weigh on one hand, the safety and health of a neighborhood, but he has to weigh that with compassion versus a homeowner who may not have the resources to fix their home up. I mean, the man needs the Wisdom of Solomon because you just don’t know in some of those situations what you want to do,” Krompak said.

“It’s such a difficult balance for Judge McConnell. He has a thankless job because the thing is he can never make everyone perfectly happy. He doesn’t like putting an ankle bracelet on somebody who doesn’t have the funds to fix their house, but then on the other hand things go so far and one house can destroy a neighborhood. It’s really true.”

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