After months of anticipation, the city last week razed the blighted apartment building at 1482-1484 W. 117th St. They took control of the foreclosed property on February 2nd, after purchasing it at sheriff’s sale for $55,000.
The property’s mortgage servicer earlier this year asked a court to stop the city from demolishing the building, which had been declared an unsafe structure. They wanted an opportunity to make repairs and protect their investment. The request was withdrawn after the city acquired the property.
The demolition was delayed, in part, because of the quirky design of an underground water pipe.
Director of Public Works Joseph Beno explained at a recent Public Works Committee meeting that the primary water pipe and meter for a couple of the other apartment buildings in the area ran directly through the city-owned building. He figured the design probably made sense when the water system was first installed because all of the properties may have been owned by the same person. To correct the issue, the city ran two new waterlines under a nearby private driveway.
What’s next for W.117th?
It is reasonable to assume the city will try and sell the newly-cleared parcel to owners of the adjacent apartment buildings who might welcome the opportunity to create more parking for their tenants.
Next on the city’s demolition list could be Morris Laderman’s Highland Manor Apartments at 1468 West 117th. The lender successfully foreclosed on the property, but declined to initiate a sheriff’s sale – a common tactic employed by irresponsible lenders who don’t want to deal with the expense of an abandoned property.
The city designated the building as an unsafe structure, and Division of Housing and Building Director Jeff Ashby has said it will be demolished. He has also said surprisingly little asbestos – which is expense to remove – was found in the building.
A document filed by the city in February with the county recorder’s office indicates it has spent $122,028 on the property doing nuisance abatement work, and could seek to recoup the money through a property assessment.
Another demolition is in the cards
In another nuisance abatement note, the city awarded a contract on May 24th to demolish the vacant apartment building they own at 13736 Madison Ave. It’s sandwiched between Calanni Auto Service and Lakewood Firestone Tire and Auto, near Lakewood High School.
City picks up Marlowe Ave. house from Fannie Mae
The city acquired the vacant house at 2060 Marlowe Ave. from Fannie Mae early this month. It has a property tax value of around $111,000, but the city appears to have received it at no cost.
The property was purchased in 1989 by Sean and Margaret Barry. Their lender began foreclosure proceedings against them in each of the last three years. The 2009 foreclosure for $98,671 was uncontested by the Barrys, although Margaret asked to be removed from the complaint because she claimed to have been tricked by her husband and a lending representative through “deceit and misrepresentation” into co-signing a loan refinance agreement.
Fannie Mae bought the house for $36,667 on March 29th at sheriff’s sale.
The property looks nice from the outside, however, for the city to have received it for free suggests that something significant scared away the real estate vultures.
By the way, the city is trying to unload the properties it bought and rehabbed at 1598 Wyandotte and 1300 Andrews.
Bad economy and foreclosures not good for aging housing stock
Crime grabs all of the headlines, but one of the primary threats to the long-term well-being of the city is the condition of its housing and building stock. It is old and can be expensive to maintain.
According to information released this month by the Division of Housing and Building, the city has 9,314 single-family structures, 3,226 duplexes, 326 triplexes, 981 multi-family buildings, and over 750 retail storefronts containing 28,583 dwelling units. The average age of these structures is 84.
The lousy economy has caused some credit and cash-strapped homeowners to delay maintenance. Add the unprecedented foreclosure situation to the mix, and there’s a stew simmering that can be as damaging as any crime wave and longer-lasting.
On a single day in early June, for example, eight different houses in Lakewood – each owned by the same person, Stephen Rising – fell into foreclosure. Rising owns nine Lakewood properties that are in foreclosure, plus some in other cities. He has accumulated $25,400 in delinquent property taxes.
To be sure, not all of Rising’s homes will automatically turn into nuisances. The concern is how the properties will be cared for in the months or years it takes him to straighten out the situation. Will the grass be cut, will repairs be made, etc.?
Building code violations down over each of the last four years
It is difficult to know how successful the city is in dealing with its housing issues. It doesn’t have mandatory point-of-sale inspections like Shaker Hts., or regular city-wide exterior inspections of owner-occupied homes like Cleveland Hts. Without either of those protections in place, the situation is ripe for problems to fall through the cracks and exacerbate.
Interestingly, the number of building code violations decreased for the fourth straight year from 181 cases in 2008 to 159 cases in 2009, according to the 2009 Lakewood Municipal Court annual report. In addition, instances where tenants deposited their rent with the court because of code violations went from 33 in 2008 to 17 in 2009.
What’s up in housing court?
One day earlier this month, Lakewood Municipal Court Judge Patrick Carroll heard the cases of about 30 different property owners in court for housing and building code violations.
Most of the owners had either repaired their properties or had made good progress towards getting things up to code – in which case the judge issued a continuance for follow-up at a later date.
- Lakewood Hardware’s Glenn Palmer, who has had some frustrations in housing court, was given a one-week extension to submit architectural plans to the building department regarding repairs to the roof, steps, and porch of his building on Madison Ave.
- Patrick Sullivan, of Sullivan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, was given until September 3rd to produce approved drawings for his building to correct concerns about firewall and property line issues.
- Westlake resident Kujtim Dauti, who owns the vacant space between Merry Arts Pub and Grill and Niko’s was given a two-week extension in order to get his architect and the city’s building department on the same page.
Assistant Building Commissioner Robert Apanasewicz said he and project architect Charles A. McGettrick “disagreed on technical issues.” Dauti wants to put a restaurant in the space. He has changed plans several times, going from a restaurant, to retail, to a coffee shop, and now back to a restaurant.
- Dustin Koch landed in housing court after a neighbor complained about the junk in his French Ave. backyard, which included an improperly stored 15-foot boat, an unlicensed Jeep without an engine, tools strewn about, and tall grass.
Koch relocated the boat to his mother’s residence on Brockley, but was unclear about the other violations he’d been cited for.
He and the city housing inspector had spoken on the phone, but had not discussed the situation in person. The inspector did visit Koch’s residence and spoke with someone he believed was Koch, but in fact was a friend of Koch. The inspector photographed the violations, but could not download the images from his cell phone in time for the court appearance.
Carroll fined Koch $50, placed him on a year’s probation, and gave him a month to clean-up his property. Koch could be fined up to $1,000 if he doesn’t reach compliance.
Judge warns Cranford Ave. resident inaction won’t be tolerated
Cranford Ave. resident Kathleen Bruening appeared before Judge Carroll and explained she could not afford to correct her housing violations, which include construction of a new garage, and replacement of a failing front porch support beam.
LakewoodAlive Housing Outreach Director Hillary Schickel referred Bruening to a debt counselor and Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland (NHS) for assistance.
Bruening said her mortgage lender would not modify the terms of her loan in order to make it more affordable. She also said she’s considering taking the advice of the NHS representative who advised her to let the house go into foreclosure.
Judge Carroll did not find that option suitable. “I’m not going to have you just walk away from this,” he said. “This could go on for years, and I’m not going to permit that.”
He reminded her of the obligation to her neighbors to take care of the property and said he could fine her at least $1,000 if she tried to take the easy way out.
“I know it’s my problem, but there’s nothing I can do,” Bruening replied. She estimated the porch beam repair would cost at least $3,000.
Judge Carroll issued Bruening a one-month continuance in order to figure out an acceptable plan, such as possibly turning the house over to the bank to avoid foreclosure.