By JOY BROWN
Dwayne Chambers said he loves Findlay, but the romance is waning because of places like 605 Tiffin Ave.
Addressing City Council last month, Chambers took issue with his neighbors’ waist-high weeds.
“You’ve told me how great the city is, that you love it, how nice it looks. Tell me if you would be proud to invite any number of people into the city and show them this” address, Chambers asked council members.
“I’m appalled by it as well,” 4th Ward Councilman Tom Klein said. “I consider Tiffin Avenue to be a gateway to our community, and that first impression is less than favorable.”
The city has since mowed that particular property, which is in foreclosure.
Overgrown lawns, some of them perennial eyesores, have become a topic of public discussion, which has prompted some government action.
Mayor Lydia Mihalik said Findlay’s Neighborhood Enhancement and Abatement Team (NEAT), the office that handles property complaints ranging from junk vehicles to snow-covered sidewalks, no longer sends a certified letter to alert homeowners about complaints, a step that added time and often yielded no response. But addressing a complaint still takes several weeks.
A group led by Klein has been examining ways to strengthen NEAT to promote quicker property cleanups.
Klein said the group, which includes Councilman-At-Large Grant Russel, Law Director Don Rasmussen and Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer, has considered drafting legislation that would establish a registration program for foreclosed, vacant and abandoned properties.
It would identify who is responsible for maintaining the properties, and hold them responsible when they don’t.
“We’ve got homes that we don’t even know who they belong to,” Klein said. “We have doors hanging open, windows broken, grass not mowed.”
But some council members said such a list would be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain, given the ownership limbo that many properties are in.
“People like myself, who have represented foreclosure properties in the past, have run into major, major problems” with banks not taking official ownership for long periods of time, 5th Ward Councilman John Harrington said. During that period, “the courts have said the banks have a right to come in and secure the property by locking things up, making sure the water is not left on and things like that. But I don’t know if they’re in a position to allow it to be mowed,” he said.
Harrington also said there are properties owned by limited liability corporations, some of which have scant contact information.
Mihalik said vacant properties aren’t the only eyesores in town. “There are also people (residents) who just don’t care” about upkeep, she said.
Klein said his group’s ideas remain in the conceptual stage. The group is welcoming comments and ideas.
“I think there are a lot of things we can do” to alleviate such property problems, Rasmussen said. Other communities are using compliance tactics such as shutting off water service and imposing harsher fines, he said.
But Findlay “hasn’t gotten anywhere close to defining” terms such as “vacant” and “abandoned,” Rasmussen said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
“This problem is multifaceted,” Russel said. “The NEAT process just takes too dang long, and I think we’ve really been very forgiving in terms of things like tall grass. We kind of bend over backward on their (property owners’) behalf.”
In 2013, there were 1,055 complaints submitted to NEAT. As of June this year, there had been 994 complaints submitted, the majority of them prompted by the unusual amount of snow last winter: 526 sidewalk-related complaints were received, compared to 54 in 2013.
“We’re going to keep working on it,” Klein said. At a council meeting last month, he “guaranteed something will happen within the next two or three months” to improve enforcement methods.
Related story: City’s weed complaint procedure