Cleveland's condemned homes: What does it take to tear them down?

CLEVELAND - There are roughly two dozen homes on Laisy Avenue on Cleveland’s east side. Out of those, four are condemned by the city, and out of those four, only one is currently on the demolition list.

It is a lengthy and legal process to get a structure demolished, and Cleveland’s newly sworn-in Building and Housing Director Ayonna Blue Donald said her department cannot afford to skip any steps.

“We don’t own those structures so I can’t just pull up to a structure with a wrecking ball or a demolition crew and raze a property,” Donald said. She explained how the process starts initially with a call to her office or to 311 with a complaint from a citizen, council person, or community development group.

From there, inspectors must track down the property owner to obtain consent to enter the structure.

“Keep in mind that we cannot just enter a vacant property,” Donald said. “It is a Fourth Amendment right for all property owners for search and seizure, either we have to get someone’s consent or a search warrant.”

Once an inspection is complete and if code violations are found, the city can begin the process of condemning the home. At that point, property owners are given the chance to fix the problems.

When all of those avenues are exhausted and every person tied to a property has been tracked down and notified, then the city can move forward with adding it to the demolition list. 

“Because I cannot raze a structure without being confident that I won’t have a wrongful demolition suit,” Donald said. “So I have to make sure my files are legally sufficient to tear down a structure.”

On the quick end, with consent from a property owner, it can take roughly six months. Without it, and with legal hurdles trying to track down rightful owners, it can stretch into years.

For Karen Mims, who has lived on Laisy Avenue for 20 years, the legalities are understandable, but the slow-moving process is frustrating nonetheless.

“The frustrating part about it is the crime. The crime and just feeling unsafe. Not being able to sit out on your porch or walk down the street. It’s not fair,” Mims said.

She hopes the condemned homes are either torn down quickly or taken over and rehabbed by families who want to rebuild the street where she raised her six children.

“I’m sure it is a long process, but just to get it started would be encouraging, just to know someone cares.”

Currently, according to Donald, the city has 4,500 homes that are “likely condemnable” but have not gone through the legal process yet.

Three thousand homes are condemned. One thousand homes are currently on the demolition list.

This is part of News 5's 'Cleveland Abandoned' – a series like you’ve never seen on the state of vacant properties in Cleveland and how it impacts our city. This in-depth look will expose the scope and history of the problem. You will also hear from people and organizations working tirelessly to make their neighborhoods better. Lastly, “Cleveland Abandoned” will detail how we can work together to combat challenges, uncover solutions and improve our community.

Print this article Back to Top