Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Irish Cliffs: County interested in "At risk Teen" Group home? Are you kidding? VBML is BROKEN!!!

Further developments in the ongoing saga of Irish Cliffs and the city attempts to haul it into demo hearing.

I had contacted Jay Glenn who is apparently "marketing" this property on Craigslist. I asked him why , when clearly the property was headed to demo hearing that he was trying to sell it? His email response below:

I've got interest from the county of turning this building into special needs housing for foster teens. I'm well aware that the building needs major repair. All my postings have informed potential buyers that the unit needs 100k in repairs. What else would you like me to do? If some one comes in and runs it correctly there will be no drugs or other problems. There are plenty of functional buildings in low income neighborhoods that do well. I'm not trying to deceive anyone.

NOTICE- I buy "ROUGH" houses and solve "TOUGH" real estate situations. If you refer a house I can buy, I'll pay you $1,000!

Amazing! I cannot tell you the sense of personal outrage I have IF, in fact, the county is EVEN considering locating a facility to this location. Irish Cliffs sits right across the street from a Bar and
The corner of Harrison and Fairmount is littered with needles from the open air drug trade that goes on their daily. Who, IN THEIR RIGHT MIND, would even consider putting a facility for special needs foster teens at this location! Incredible!

The fact that this property is even for sale shows just how broken the city of Cincinnati enforcement ordinances are, as well as the VBML (Vacant Property Maintenance License) system is.

If, in fact, this property was sold to the county ( and I hope someone can find out if this lunacy is even being considered!) It would effectively stop the demolition hearing because of change of ownership. Foreclosure does the same thing. In fact many unscrupulous slumlords get around enforcement by "selling" property back and forth between family members because they know it "resets the clock" on enforcement.

If one actually reads the muni code, (I have), as it relates to VBML and its' enforcement , it is full of loopholes and actually appears to violate both State and Federal Law.

Case in point:

Section 1101-129.3 States that: failure to pay the application fee, late fees, or fines and city costs associated with the VBML will result in a lien being placed against the property for a total of these fines and fees allowed to remain unpaid. The city will exercise all legal methods to collect these fees which includes foreclosure of the property.

However the city does not unilaterally do that. A new buyer often has no knowledge that there are orders against the property since if a lien has not been files, it does not show up on a title search. New buyer purchases the property, goes about their business and finds our several months later, when an inspector walks by, that there are orders against the property, they can't live in it, or rent it, and they have to pay a 900 fee for a VBML The Consumer/Buyer does not know about the orders because the city doesn't file a lien. This would appear to violate state consumer protection and disclosure law which is why perhaps it "resets' the whole thing in motion when a property is sold.

Realtors are not required, or likely even know, if a property has orders against it , so they are under no obligation to disclose this "known condition", especially since seller don't tell them. So buyers have no real protection.

There is NO specific clause in the ordinance that prohibits the owner from selling a property with orders against it. Many cities prohibit sale of a property with orders against it and specify that the only way a property may be sold is if the owner advised the buyer and the buyer completes a form and returns it to the city notarized that they are aware of the violation and will abide by building services orders and submit a plan for correction. The city of St Joseph Missouri, for example, has the following clause in their ordinance as do many cities:

2000 IPMC - Sec. 107.5 Transfer of ownership.It shall be unlawful for the owner of any dwelling unit or structure who has received a compliance order or upon whom a notice of violation has been served to sell, transfer, mortgage, lease or otherwise dispose of such dwelling unit or structure to another until the provisions of the compliance order or notice of violation has been complied with, or until such owner shall first furnish the grantee, transferee, mortgagee or lessee a true copy of any compliance order or notice of violation issued by the code official and shall furnish to the code official a signed and notarized statement from the grantee, transferee, mortgagee or lessee, acknowledging the receipt of such compliance order or notice of violation and fully accepting the responsibility without condition for making the corrections or repairs required by such compliance order of notice of violation.

Cincinnati has no such provision in their ordinance, and that lack of provision creates a 'revolving door" for slumlords.

In fact, the city does not appear to unilaterally enforce the ordinance, often 'looking the other way'. One can drive through more affluent areas of the city, see the same violations that trigger a VBML in urban "poor" areas and no order has been issued.

One could even argue that the 900.00 annual "license fee" discriminates against low income home buyers who often buy a house for say 10 grand and then are hit with a VBML costing almost 10 percent of the purchase price. The VBML is not on a sliding scale based on sale price, so someone buying a 100,000.00 property pays the same as someone buying a 2000.00 property. It looks like many to be "institutional redlining" by the city of Cincinnati who appear to be "Bulldoze happy" anyway when it come to urban neighborhoods yet the Irish Cliffs Apartments, may fall through the enforcement cracks because the ordinance is so poorly written and could actually be interpreted to be both discriminatory and violate federal fair housing laws.

Imagine the cost to the city if someone successfully challenged this ordinance as written, based on both State of Ohio consumer protection laws, State and Federal Real estate disclosure laws, and the Federal Fair housing act and won? The city would see an immediate class action filed by everyone who ever PAID for a VBML, the cost to the city, and the taxpayers would be Huge!

In my opinion, the city needs to get it's act together, rewrite the ordinance so it has legal continuity, (stops the revolving door for slumlords), doesn't break disclosure laws and can be used for what it was intended for. Keeping structurally unsound property maintained in a stable state and not as a "Bullying tool" against undereducated, under informed homeowners in mostly Urban, mostly poor neighborhoods. Either the city enforces the law or it doesn't, but it cant have it both ways.

I can tell you one thing, IF, the county plans on putting an "at risk special needs facility" at Harrison and Fairmount they can expect a legal fight.

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