Local professor has simple ways Cleveland can hold owners of dilapidated properties accountable

Posted at 1:02 PM, Sep 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-18 08:45:21-04

The condemned sign on 7118 Dearborn Avenue means it's close to no longer being an eyesore for the neighbors. But legal experts say it wouldn't take all that much to make the companies more accountable when their properties fall into disrepair.

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Court documents and a condemned sign are stapled to the wall at 7118 Dearborn.

Most of the houses along Dearborn are kept up pretty well. But Fred Cherney has found one big exception.

"When it rains, it's gotta be filling up that upstairs," said Cherney, gesturing towards the back of the house.

7118 Dearborn Avenue is right across the street from Cherney's home since 1950. 

Fred and his neighbor look across the street at 7118 Dearborn from Fred's house.

"Before they boarded it up, there was a whole bunch of people coming here," said Cherney. "Sometimes 10 to 15 people in here."

Police reports show the neighbors have called in worried about drug activity and the people who come and go.

Cleveland Police body camera footage shows a house where the paint is peeling from the walls, bed sheets separate parts of the house and belongings are strewn all over the place before the home was boarded up.

The problem with making the owner fix it up is that the property is owned by Dantino Enterprises. They haven't answered any of the Cleveland Housing Courts' recent notices about code violations and records suggest that the person who incorporated the company lives out of state.

"It's kind of a cat and mouse game," said Cleveland Marshall School of Law Adjunct Professor Zach Germaniuk about the process to hold corporations accountable.

He says cities can only hold the corporation accountable when a corporation owns a property. When fines pile up for abandoned properties, a city can only go after the assets that a corporation has, not the assets of the person who incorporated the business. If a corporation's only other assets are other buildings that are condemned, or nearly condemned, there likely won't be any money to pay off the fines and they go uncollected.

Before the home was boarded up, the front door hung wide open and windows were broken.

"The best place to be as a defendant is to be uncollectible and that's really the situation that we're facing right now," said Germaniuk.

Germaniuk says there are three areas that could help cities hold corporate property owners accountable.

  1. Make corporations prove they have assets and someone who lives locally to fix or answer for violations and share liability.
  2. Consider heavier penalties for properties that are condemned.
  3. Empower homeowners and neighbors to be able to bring civil cases against nuisance properties.

Making sure a corporation has a local person to answer for problems with a property would mean the numerous housing code violations served to Dantino Enterprises over the years for their three remaining properties likely wouldn't have gone unanswered.

Much of the top layer of siding is gone from the home. Neighbors say they've seen people come up and rip it right off.

"When it comes down to it, an 'LLC' is a piece of paper," said Germaniuk.

That piece of paper isn't able to make the view from Fred's front porch any nicer or keep away the people Fred says come through at all hours of the night.

"I don't want them to, you know, come knocking on my door," said Cherney.

Court documents stabled to the front of 7118 Dearborn show that the home is in danger of being demolished at some point, but the most recent demolition list doesn't include the property yet.