|Last updated: 6/24/04 3:32 PM|
|Last updated: 6/24/04 3:32 PM|
Published: Mon, Jun 21, 2004
About 130 properties in the city have been cleaned up so far.
YOUNGSTOWN Warnings are in the hundreds. So are the number of ensuing administrative fines for property code violations.
Few people have paid up.
But what's encouraging to Mike Damiano, Youngstown's housing and demolition director, is a drive down streets such as Willis and Delason avenues on the South Side.
About 30 of the 49 property owners who recently received warnings to clean up their properties on those streets actually did. They cut their high grass or removed debris from yards.
"I was pleasantly surprised," Damiano said.
The new approach
It's early in the city's new system of enforcing housing codes using administrative fines and tougher criminal laws. The system has the potential to better pressure people to do the right thing: keep their properties in decent shape, Damiano said.
"We want the city cleaned up," he said.
Housing inspectors sent 435 warning letters by registered and regular mail starting in late March. The letters told property owners they have 30 days to correct violations or they faced $100 fines.
Follow-up inspections showed lingering violations at about 300 of those properties. The property owners got letters levying the $100 fine and threatening a $500 fine if the problems weren't resolved within 30 additional days.
"It's quite a thing going on right now," Damiano said. "Every day, another 20 or 30 [letters] are going out."
There haven't been any $500 or $1,000 fines yet, nor any misdemeanor criminal charges filed, which are the next steps.
Just four property owners had paid their $100 fines through mid-June.
But the important part is that about 130 property owners have cleaned up their properties, Damiano said. That's 130 fewer properties that drive neighbors crazy or that the city must mow, he said.
Maureen O'Neil Farris, chairwoman of the city's Housing Code Enforcement Task Force, is pleased to see the new system finally working.
"The important thing is that it happened," she said.
Housing is among the most important quality-of-life issues and is vital to the city's future, she said.
O'Neil Farris said she hopes the big change will encourage more people to get involved with other task forces and movements such as the Youngstown 2010 plan for the city's future.
The housing task force shows that change is possible, she said.
Last year, city council took the housing task force's suggestion of replacing the old system of warnings and minor misdemeanor charges in court with the administrative fines. Council also increased the criminal penalty from a minor misdemeanor to the tougher regular misdemeanor.
Property code criminal charges start at six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
In the past, property owners cited for minor misdemeanors especially landlords opted to pay $100 fines or less rather than fix the problem, Damiano said.
Property owners who want to appeal their administrative fines have 15 days. A hearing is set once a $15 processing fee is paid to the housing office.
Appeals will be heard before a seven-member appeals board. Nobody has yet appealed a fine, he said.
Property owners aren't going to get out of the administrative fines by ignoring them. Any unpaid fines are attached to a property's tax bill.
Damiano said he has granted time extensions to those who have situations such as bad health.
He suspects the $500 fines that come next will motivate many more people to tidy up their properties in the coming months.
"I think you'll see a lot more action. A lot more crying," he said.