Recently, a local rental property was featured in a story on WKRC in Cincinnati (click here to read). Some of the article came to no surprise to many in Wilmington. Those who live in and have been around the city, even on some of the main streets, have certainly noticed the deterioration of many local rental properties. One issue that struck me was the lack of enforcment. If WKRC could talk to the landlord, then why couldn’t the city get him to show up for court? I decided to further investigate John Blake (the landlord mentioned in the story) and a few other local landlords and their properties in Wilmington. Here is what I found, and how I think the city can improve their code enforcement in the future…
John Blake and his wife Sarah Hapner are listed as the owner of several properties besides the one discussed in the article. Here are a few pictures of those properties
As you can see, these properties are an eyesore. Not only that, they violate several pieces of building code in the Wilmington Municipal Code, including (emphasis mine):
1709.03 (b) Protective Treatment. All exterior surfaces, including but not limited to, doors, door and window frames, cornices, porches and trim, shall be maintained in good condition. Exterior wood surfaces, other than decay-resistant woods, shall be protected from the elements and decay by painting or other protective covering or treatment. Peeling, flaking and chipped paint shall be eliminated and surfaces repainted. All siding and masonry joints as well as those between the building envelope and the perimeter of windows, doors, and skylights shall be maintained weather resistant and water tight.
- 1709.03 (f) Exterior Walls. All exterior walls shall be free from holes, breaks, loose or rotting materials; and maintained weatherproof and properly surface coated where required to prevent deterioration.
Unfortunately, these are not the only rental properties that are suffering due to a lack of code enforcement. There are two more examples that I have noticed (as have many Wilmington residents). The first two pictures are from one property on Wood St., and actually belongs to Kathryn Hapner. She is a former Wilmington Law Director and sister of Sarah Hapner, mentioned above. The second property shown is owned by Renaissance Men Properties, which is listed as an LLC with Alan Ledford and Grant Peelle as principals.
Again, we see many code violations in both places. Ms. Hapner was law director and is still a practicing lawyer, so one would assume that she is aware of the law. In the second case, which is an unrepaired roof after a fire, we can see the signs of negligent property owners dragging their feet, which have allowed parts of the building to end up almost on the Luther Warren Peace Path. This was not a recent fire by any standards and has a negative effect on the aesthetics of the trail.
I pursued this story because it is an important issue for Wilmington to consider. We should be sad to see our city on regional news for a lack of code enforcement by the city, and it is clear that Mr. Blake is not the only one. We have many local landlords that do not keep their buildings up to code, and this is something we must address as a community.
What can be done?
At the last City Council Judicial Committee meeting, Wilmington City Service and Safety Director Brian Shidaker said that there is no money allocated in the budget for code enforcement. Therefore, the only time issues like this are investigated is through a citizen’s complaint, and then only by the police department. This process often causes the ire of city residents, as they feel frustrated when their pleas for enforcement go unresolved. In the case mentioned at the beginning of this post, that led to a resident going to a Cincinnati news organization for answers.
There can be a solution, but it will have to involve city and county government working together. It is undeniable that blighted properties could lead to potential property tax losses for the county. If we continue down a road of allowing owners to not care for properties, it will likely become more difficult for homeowners to find potential customers, thus leading to a drop in prices. Additionally, many of these homes pose a health and safety risk to residents. Broken windows leading to unstable home temperatures and allowing weather in, mold, poor bathroom conditions, and issues with parts of buildings or retention walls coming on to public property could present real health and safety issues.
So, I believe that the county needs to step in and use some of the money from the sale of Clinton Memorial Hospital to work with the City of Wilmington (and other municipalities in the county, if necessary) to enforce building codes. Much of the money is earmarked for health and safety, which safe and sanitary living conditions falls under. Additionally, as I pointed out, Clinton County has a vested financial interest in keeping our neighborhoods clean, safe, and attractive for potential homebuyers. This is something we, as a community, should get behind in order to improve the quality of life for everyone.