Toledo Talk

How Do We Rid the Block of a Vacant Property

We have a house that has been vacant for about 7 years on our block. It has not been a problem until recently. It has never been offered for sale or rent. It was kept sealed until recently when someone removed the doors and began to strip it. I have called the city three times about it, and no one has been out to secure it. The owners have an address in San Antonio, TX. They have not paid real estate taxes since at least 2008. I have thought about writing them a letter suggesting that they try to return the property to the city in exchange for tax leniency. Is this possible?

The problem with this vacant property is that now the property next door (also vacant but maintained by a real estate company) has been broken into. The maintenance man who came to fix it says those people breaking into vacant houses are starting to do it in the winter (when he and other maintenance people got a break from that). I found the door for the second property in the garage of the first. I helped him carry it back and his partner screwed it back in the frame. The door had not been damaged because the vandals broke a window, and unscrewed the hinges.

A rumor in the neighborhood is that someone involved in the ownership of the home was an independent businessman and was accused by the state of Ohio of not paying the proper amount of state income tax. Could this keep the property from being sold until that is satisfied, and could that also keep it from being turned over to the city or county. This piece of land is becoming a real pain in the block.

created by oldsendbrdy on Jan 16, 2014 at 12:07:35 am     Comments: 28

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I'd start with the Lucas County Land Bank. http://co.lucas.oh.us/index.aspx?NID=2169

posted by prairieson on Jan 16, 2014 at 12:52:35 am     #   1 person liked this

See the post - below - http://www.toledotalk.com/cgi-bin/tt.pl/article/169050/11Jan2014/Real_Estate_Taxes - we elect people and until we told the people elected to follow the wishes of the electors we are never going to get this solved, in the post properties all over Toledo that the land bank has not taken and are sitting with property taxes unpaid for up to 10 years. The best way is to keep posting and keeping these posts on the front page of Toledo Talk. Print the info on Aeries out and go down to the Treasurer's office and ask why property gets to sit with nothing done. They let it sit so long it is worth nothing when if they moved when it got behind perhaps it would be worth something. Keep the light of day on this growing problem.

posted by Nyse on Jan 16, 2014 at 02:45:25 am     #   1 person liked this

Nyse is absolutely right about this. Those dipsticks down at 1 Gum't. Center will not get off their a$$e$ and do something that could actually help the city unless we apply tremendous pressure.

Hound them. E-mail, telephone, letters, etc. but keep after them. All the new bike paths in the world are not going to help a city with neighborhoods full of vacant, decaying property.

A good example that my fellow Point Placers have likely seen - the deteriorating, slowly collapsing house on Suder directly across from one of the Kroger parking lot exits.

I'm sure Lovely Lindsay has seen it many times. She certainly appears to make many trips to the grocery store.

It has sat vacant for years and is well on its way to total collapse. What a freaking eyesore.

posted by Foodie on Jan 16, 2014 at 07:54:30 am     #  

Run the owners name thru the Lucas County court site http://www.co.lucas.oh.us/index.aspx?NID=99 Click agree and continue on the first page, enter the name on the second page click search, find the name on the list and click on the blue case number, next page just click continue(no info needed), that page will show you the progress of the case and at the top of the page you can read the documents for each event.

posted by OldTimer on Jan 16, 2014 at 08:42:57 am     #  

What are you prepared to do about the blight, oldsendbrdy? Yes, hounding city officials is important, but what is stopping you and your neighbors from getting together and securing the property?

I grew up in Detroit (the city, not the 'burbs) and I know from personal experience how much it sucks to be living near a vacant or abandoned house. The neighborhoods that minimize blight are usually the ones with proactive residents who will do things like cut grass, shovel snow, and clean up at vacant properties.

Should this be someone else's job, like the owner or (by default) the city? Of course.

However, that abandoned building is now affecting your property in terms of value and quality of life. In my book, when no one is stepping up, I then have the right to protect the value of my own home by making abandoned buildings less of an eyesore.

Over the last few years with the foreclosures in Toledo I have had several houses go vacant very close to my house. I could have let the grass grow waist-high and grumbled to the city about it (and at first I did) but I feel a lot better when I just walk over to the house and cut the grass, pick up all those blue Blade advertising bags, and make the place look presentable.

At one vacant house (owner in the hospital for months) I even went over and washed the person's car that was in the driveway covered with leaf stains and debris just to keep up the "someone lives here" appearances.

The increase in human activity deters scavengers and squatters, as a house that looks lived-in is much less likely to be attractive to riff-raff.

Is this "illegal"? Perhaps in some technical sense, but if the city cannot stop metal thieves from stripping buildings, I highly doubt anyone is going to issue me a citation for trespassing, and if they did, I highly doubt a judge would impose a fine on someone trying to make the city a better place.

On the contrary: Numerous times other neighbors have come out to thank me for my anti-blight efforts. One elderly neighbor even brought me a full can of gas in gratitude for cutting the lawn all summer at an abandoned house next to him, while another gave me an Anderson's gift card.

Moral of the story: you can sit in your house and stare at the blight while making a dozen semi-useless phone calls to the city, or you can try to prevent blight on your block by being proactive.

If I had an unsecured vacant house, I would be grabbing some 4'×8' plywood and boarding that POS right the hell up. Then I would take some old paint I have laying around and paint the plywood to look like a door, so that any lowlifes casually driving by would not give the place a second look.

But that's me.

As far as the costs incurred when you engage in anti-blight vigilantism: think instead about the many thousands of dollars you might lose in property value if blight takes root. To me, a few hours here or $40 worth of plywood there seems like cheap insurance to maintain the value of my property and my quality of life.

posted by historymike on Jan 16, 2014 at 09:07:13 am     #   6 people liked this

Mike, you are absolutely right. When a house next to me was vacant, I cut the grass, shoveled snow, and parked my spare car in the driveway. It sat empty for 3 years with no problem.

posted by OldTimer on Jan 16, 2014 at 10:27:02 am     #   2 people liked this

OldTimer posted at 09:27:02 AM on Jan 16, 2014:

Mike, you are absolutely right. When a house next to me was vacant, I cut the grass, shoveled snow, and parked my spare car in the driveway. It sat empty for 3 years with no problem.

Now THAT is a great strategy, OldTimer. I never thought about this before, but nothing creates the impression of "someone lives here" than a car in and out of the driveway.

I am going to use this idea at a house that is about to enter a period of vacancy right by me (elderly owner passed away last weekend and the bank will be gaining title due to the high mortgages and near-total absence of value for heirs, according to her son). Even a few times a week with a car overnight in the driveway will go a long way toward reducing the likelihood that a vacant house will be targeted by thieves or other ne'er-do-wells.

Which brings up another point: get out and regularly talk with your neighbors. At the very least wave to them and say "hello" when they pass by. Not only will you improve a sense of community, but you might also learn about vacancy situations as they occur and not weeks or months later.

One older lady (70-ish) in my neighborhood knows everything about the blocks where she walks the dogs every day. Five minutes chatting with her and I know every newsworthy situation (who died, who is in the hospital, who just moved, the rude kids on bikes, where the new people are moving in, who needs to get that mattress out of their front yard, what a shame these young homeowners never cut their grass, and so on).

Sure, sometimes this is just chatter, but oftentimes it is people like this who make the difference in a neighborhood, as nothing goes unnoticed by this woman. She is even in the Block Watch, and if she sees something remotely suspicious she is calling the police.

posted by historymike on Jan 16, 2014 at 10:45:27 am     #  

yes... history mike is correct that being proactive is the best solution.

but also... i believe that, technically, if you track your expenditures for materials and time for securing the building and maintaining the property, such as regular mowing, that you can create a lien on the property and be reimbursed if the property is sold. i have been told this by dept of neighborhood personnel.

can any attorney out there verify this.

posted by enjoyeverysandwich on Jan 16, 2014 at 10:47:20 am     #  

The last post concerning unauthorized alterations to property followed by a lien prompts me get this off my chest. What the hell? I grew up in this country and people used the phrase, "Mind your own business!" When the hell was it decided that the end justifies the means? YOU decide you don't like something about my property, come unto it uninvited like a thief in the night, do what YOU think is proper and then send me a bill? Repeat: What the hell? Ownership is the cornerstone of our system. For those inclined to dispute every phrase, that means I own it you do not. Please do not impose your thinking on any parcels or real property which I may possess because the response will be swift, accurate and demonstrate no mercy I assure you. The legal process moves slow for good reason. When you determine that YOUR needs are superior to codified law you then become the criminal.

posted by Mariner on Jan 16, 2014 at 11:16:26 am     #  

enjoyeverysandwich posted at 09:47:20 AM on Jan 16, 2014:

yes... history mike is correct that being proactive is the best solution.

but also... i believe that, technically, if you track your expenditures for materials and time for securing the building and maintaining the property, such as regular mowing, that you can create a lien on the property and be reimbursed if the property is sold. i have been told this by dept of neighborhood personnel.

can any attorney out there verify this.

I'm not a practicing attorney right now, but this is BS. The government has the authority to do something like this, but only after proper notice is given. A neighbor? No way. I'm surprised the DoN is giving legal advice; that's a big no-no for any government agency.

posted by MrsArcher on Jan 16, 2014 at 11:44:15 am     #   2 people liked this

i own a building where for years i had a neighbor who failed to maintain the property adjacent to mine... failed to the point that a porch collapsed, broken windows were left open, grass always allowed to grow above 12" high, pidgeons and rats were making their way in and out... all things that were technically against the law but which the city of toledo refused or was unwilling to enforce remedies against the owner. i would call regularly to the mayors office, code enforcement, and dept of neighborhoods.

if you have read the tipping point.... if you know about new yorks success under rudy g... if you know urban planning... you know these things matter. get rid of grafitti within a day every time, they stop. leave a broken window unfixed, it gives some people the right to break another.

no... if that grass is not mowed, i will go and cut it. i will seal a building where critters are going in and out.

you are going to attack someone mowing your lawn?! ownership comes with obligations not just rights and if you are not holding up your end of the bargain you think the community should support you for the nuisance and health and safety danger you create? too many absent owners take advantage of the ineffectiveness of government to enforce laws and the reluctance of neighbors to get involved and it is why so much of the city is in trouble. a neighbors failure to maintain property is my business... it affects the value of my property and the health and safety of my family and the enjoyment of my property.

the DoN persons advice to keep track of time and expenditures for maintaining an abandoned property... well i would not be surprised if it had no standing... it was given on a site visit where she was telling me they essentially wouldnt be doing anything about the problems other than taking some notes in a file... but things often are not fair and crappy people continue to do crppy things... i will continue to roll abandoned tires off the property to the curb where the city will pick them up and mow the lawn and get my can of paint out to cover graffitti... i guess regardless of some peoples rage about their rights.

posted by enjoyeverysandwich on Jan 16, 2014 at 02:23:22 pm     #   5 people liked this

Prairieson, thank you for that link. I have filled out a contact form, and perhaps they will contact the owners in San Antonio. They are about $35 short of owing $6,000, and "There are no payments on file for this parcel". Maybe the records do not go back far enough. In 2008 the taxes were $219.13 a half for the Net General.

I will try reply to other comments as I have time. I have tried to maintain the property (even cutting down the saplings that were growing in place of the grass under the large tree in the backyard). But when "strippers" are coming in, it is too much.

posted by oldsendbrdy on Jan 16, 2014 at 09:22:51 pm     #  

HistoryMike, I will be sealing up this house with 4 x 4 sheets of plywood (what I can get in my van). I am still trying to get those responsible to contact the owners. I would love to see the house torn down (it is extremely unlikely it will ever be rehabbed for use). I have even thought of using my sawzall to cut out parts of the flooring (to catch the "scrappers"), and speed the process. I am law-abiding so it is only a "thought crime".

posted by oldsendbrdy on Jan 17, 2014 at 12:23:15 am     #  

HistoryMike, I will be sealing up this house with 4 x 4 sheets of plywood (what I can get in my van). I am still trying to get those responsible to contact the owners. I would love to see the house torn down (it is extremely unlikely it will ever be rehabbed for use). I have even thought of using my sawzall to cut out parts of the flooring (to catch the "scrappers"), and speed the process. I am law-abiding so it is only a "thought crime".

posted by oldsendbrdy on Jan 17, 2014 at 12:23:15 am     #   1 person liked this

OldTimer, checked their names through the links. Apparently, the State of Ohio Dept of Taxation has taken the owners to court along with the Lucas Country Treasurer.

posted by oldsendbrdy on Jan 17, 2014 at 12:49:33 am     #  

I wonder if the efforts to collect taxes are based on the amount or the "age" of the default. A house in a poor part of town might take 10 years to come to $6,000 in default whereas an expensive house might reach that limit in only two or three years. I looked at some properties in better parts of town. A house that sold for $178,000 in 2010 pays taxes of about $5,000 a year. Miss taxes for a couple of years and owe $10,000. Miss taxes around my neighborhood, and owe about $1200 after two years.

posted by oldsendbrdy on Jan 17, 2014 at 01:16:49 am     #  

Almost surprised there isn't more arson of some of these completely destroyed abandoned homes. I hate to even mention it actually for fear someone takes it on themselves to remove some of the abandoned properties. I would never condone the practice myself, but wonder of the TFD could use some training examples on how to fight house fires. After they are done with it they could maintain a watch till the said structure was gone.

posted by MIJeff on Jan 17, 2014 at 01:49:49 am     #  

It would not be a long throw to infer that what you are suggesting has become the new urban renewal this last several years. Demolition and debris removal follows unsolved arsons immediately no muss no fuss. Chopping out holes in flooring might seem a method to deal with scavengers but bear in mind firefighters walk through that door too.

posted by Mariner on Jan 17, 2014 at 05:56:28 am     #   2 people liked this

So, here's a thought: since the red light/speed cameras are likely here to stay, how about we apply pressure on the city to dedicate ALL revenue from them to tearing down the nuisance properties?

Seems a far sight better use of the $$ than throwing into the black hole called the "general fund".

posted by Foodie on Jan 17, 2014 at 10:16:54 am     #   3 people liked this

But Foodie, then it would have to be somewhat accounted for. There's no place for that in our city.

posted by hunkytownsausage on Jan 17, 2014 at 10:18:31 am     #  

I should add that I think that's not a half bad idea though. Too bad it'll never happen.

posted by hunkytownsausage on Jan 17, 2014 at 10:19:23 am     #  

@ MIJeff

Actually, in Detroit this is how they commonly deal with the problem. The thought is that the burnt out structures also deter illegal squatting and drug dens.

posted by OhioKimono on Jan 17, 2014 at 10:22:52 am     #  

oldsendbrdy, in regards to how long the taxes go unpaid before The county will do anything, I will share a recent search I did for a couple about a house for sale in Sylvania. The Lucas County Treasure filed a tax forecloses suit for $24,800 on 1/30/12, and received judgment on 8/12 it was uncontested and went thru quick. Court order to sell was 11/12 and sale was 2/13. It took them until 7/13 to evict the former owner. Taxes on the house were about $3,000 per year, so it looks like the owner was about 8 years behind on the taxes. Really strange case because usually the mortgage holder would fill suit first, and they tend to be the ones paying the taxes. It would appear that the house was paid for, however Hunnington bank was the one that bought it at auction and had some type of loan on it.

posted by OldTimer on Jan 17, 2014 at 10:49:50 am     #  

The arson approach is incredibly stupid for a number of reasons:

  • Burnt houses are an even bigger eyesore than abandoned houses;
  • Any squatters or animals in the structure are put at risk (yes, squatting is illegal, but summary execution of squatters by fire seems a bit Draconian);
  • Nearby occupied structures are put at risk of being engulfed in the safe blaze;
  • Any existing sense of lawlessness is liable to increase;
  • Fire personnel and fire resources are wasted on an unnecessary emergency;
  • Any toxic substances in the house or used in the construction of the structure are at risk of becoming airborne poisons (think lead paint in old buildings for starters).

I know everyone above is simply speaking in hypothetical terms, but I want to interject a dose of sanity here in case any lurkers get the asinine idea to torch vacant structures.

posted by historymike on Jan 17, 2014 at 11:09:57 am     #   1 person liked this

hunkytownsausage posted at 09:18:31 AM on Jan 17, 2014:

But Foodie, then it would have to be somewhat accounted for. There's no place for that in our city.

Silly me. You are absolutely right about that! Gum't accountability - what the hell was I thinking??!!

posted by Foodie on Jan 17, 2014 at 02:12:10 pm     #  

The city boarded up the vacant house. I checked out their work. They boarded both the front and back doors. The also seem to have secured the garage.

One thought occurred to me for future use: there is a tree that the city planted. If we are going to install cameras for surveillance why not have one on that tree. It would have had both houses under view, and if put high enough would have been out of harms way.

posted by oldsendbrdy on Jan 17, 2014 at 04:18:41 pm     #  

Not sure what kind of camera you have in mind, as most of them require some kind of wiring. Wildlife cameras do not require any type of wires and could be placed in the tree. These cameras only take pictures when movement is seen. Most have IR lighting to photograph in the dark. You would need a no show IR with at least 8 MP to be discreet and enough quality to recognize faces. Expect to spend $150 and up for such a camera, and you would have to climb the tree to retrieve the camera card to view the pictures.

posted by OldTimer on Jan 17, 2014 at 04:41:48 pm     #  

Reads like a job for the Forestry Department of the city. I was thinking of a wildlife camera, or a camera perhaps run off the lines that run in front of the houses. Perhaps it would be too costly but it might catch a few crooks.

posted by oldsendbrdy on Jan 17, 2014 at 05:12:02 pm     #