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After a year and a half, a squatter home is gone from a block trying to build itself back up

Posted at 4:25 PM, Feb 17, 2020

CLEVELAND — Residents on Dearborn Avenue no longer have to look at the home that used to stand at 7118 Dearborn Avenue.

By the time Louis Modic called News 5, he says the house had been abandoned for about three years and squatters started moving in and disturbing the neighbors.

"It was crazy," said Modic. "People were going in the yards when we weren't hear, taking water from the spigots, banging on doors at midnight, wanting to borrow cigarettes and stuff."

When News 5 cameras were rolling, one man came out of the house, claiming that it belonged to his family.

County Records show it actually belonged to a company called Dantino Enterprises, which appeared to trace back to people who had moved out of Ohio.

As News 5 reported at the time, that made it very hard for Cleveland officials to hold anyone accountable for the deteriorating property.

After a few stories in the summer of 2018, the house was condemned in August 2018.

The City of Cleveland says the building was approved for demolition in April 2019 and was demolished February 7, 2020.

"Waiting for it to come down, knowing it was on the schedule, was just very frustrating," said Modic.

"We just have to make sure all of our I's are dotted and T's are crossed," said City of Cleveland Building and Housing Director Ayonna Blue Donald.

Donald says she understands frustrations like Modic's, but when the city demolishes a home, it usually belongs to someone else.

"99 percent of the time, [those homes] are owned by private citizens," said Donald.

That means there is a long list of steps the city has to take before a building can come down.

The process starts with a sidewalk inspection to establish probable cause to move forward with writing citations or pursuing demolition. If the city can track down the property's owner, they try to get permission to go into the property to inspect it from the inside.

"A police officer can't just really walk into your property without some type of probable cause," said Donald. "It's the same for a building inspector."

Without permission, inspectors need a search warrant to get inside. After that, they can start to document code violations and, if people with an interest in the property step forward, give them the chance to fix the home.

That process can play out in four to five months with minimal delays, at which point the property goes to the Demolition Bureau, where it can spend six months to a year before it gets torn down.

Donald says there are about 4,500 homes in various parts of that long process and 12 city inspectors who focus entirely on those properties. The demolition list usually has more than 300 properties on it, with about 100 contracted out to one of a handful of demolition companies.

In 2019, Donald says Cleveland demolished more than 800 buildings, achieving its goal for the year.

In 2020, Donald says the city is looking to demolish more than 1,000 buildings.

The long process ensures that the city doesn't demolish a home that someone intends to fix up, opening the city to legal action.

"We don't want to tear down someone's property without giving them appropriate notice," said Donald.

Donald says the good news is that the city has a lot of funding to take down many homes at a cost of about $10,000-$15,000 per structure.

Modic says he's relieved the abandoned home is finally gone and he's hoping the plot turns into a park or community garden.

Experts say it could be months or years before that happens, because county records show Dantino Enterprises still owns the plot of land, even though the home is gone. The land can't be taken over until after tax foreclosure or a foreclosure on the demolition lien, which can take months even if the owner does not fight back.