Pardon me for being behind the curve but I was out of town when most of the Larry Modic saga blew up. By now, most of you are aware of the City's pursuit of it's demolition order against Modic's property on Manchester Road. Modic's supporters wanted more time, noting he was unaware of the building code violations and demolition order that existed when he purchased the property. He grew frustrated, the city grew frustrated, the case went through the appeals process, tempers grew hot but on a cold February morning the issue became moot with the swing of a dozer bucket.
Going beyond the political bluster on both sides, it's helpful to point out the political bluster after the fact -- even the night before said bulldozer took 34 minutes to turn Modic's house into a pile of scrap, seen at left -- may not even be necessary.
Akron City Council is making much of an ordinance that would assess penalties against property owners who fail to disclose building code citations or, as in Modic's case, demolition officers to prospective buyers. Council President Garry Moneypenny says "...maybe, if we introduce something that requires sellers and real estate people" to disclose problems such as demolition orders it would have prevented Modic from losing his home.
Note to South High Street: been there, already done.
A simple search on the Internet, in fact, provides a handy do-it-yourself primer to real estate transactions, including a state law-mandated disclosure process exactly along the lines of what supporters on City Council say they need to have a new city law to cover. The 19-page "Home Seller's Guide" offered by the Ohio Department of Commerce is a helpful resource and includes completion of the "Property Condition Disclosure Form" that includes, among other things, an honest description of any problems with the property.
Here's the telling language: "Whether you sell your home on your own or list it with a real estate agent, Ohio law requires you to complete a “Property Condition Disclosure Form.” You must fill out the form on your own and sign it before your house is shown. This form is used to notify potential buyers of any conditions, defects or repairs, past or present, including conditions relating to major mechanical or structural areas of the property, such as heating and cooling, the roof and the foundation. The form tells anyone interested in your house whether the house or property has any wet areas or standing water, what water and sewage system it has, past uses of the property and other important information."
In the firm belief few legal avenues are a path never trodden, we've taken the liberty of including, at the bottom of this post, a .pdf download of the Property Condition Disclosure Form. I'm sure the State of Ohio won't mind Akron taking a document updated in 2008 as the basis of more debate on just how to help Mr. Modic move forward with a grievance apparently best directed at the seller of the property. This might even save city lawyers a few billable hours as they move forward on new legislation. It never hurts to have a crib sheet handy at exam time.
In a sincere effort to save City Council's lawyers the time and trouble of writing a new Akron law, maybe they can talk to the folks who are listed on the state's own primer. The online resource still bears the name of then-Governor Ted Strickland and then-Commerce Director Kim Zurz. In case they can't contact Strickland, maybe a trip down to 500 Grant Street can be arranged to speak with Zurz, who's now working as Deputy Director for the Summit County Board of Elections.
In an editorial Thursday, the Akron Beacon Journal opined it was "encouraging that city officials plan to find ways to make such information more easily accessible to the public" and notes the intention to pursue new legislation to fill gaps where holes now exist to avoid future problems such as those Larry Modic lived through.
Maybe seeing what's already on the books is a good start. Another would be to simply put the list of property citations and demolition orders online, for any prospective buyer to access. The County's Fiscal Office already does this for real estate transactions and property taxes. In fact, here's the page where you can read more about Larry Modic's house before it was demolished; the house and property he purchased for $10,000 was assessed to be worth nearly $63,000 according to the folks at the office of Fiscal Officer Kristen M. Scalise.
If there's already a database in the county that lists property parcels and values of homes, can it be that difficult to also include information the city's own inspectors prepare when deciding a building is so dilapidated it needs to be torn down?
On the chance there already is such a database where we can see listings of Building Department citations and orders online, I went to Akron's web site for information on the building department. There, you'll find a link to the Summit County Department of Building Standards. That's to be expected, since the County took over building inspections and standards in an agreement with the city that just celebrated it's fourth anniversary.
Unfortunately, the link on the City page does not go to the County Building Standards but instead goes to a virtual property called a "404 Error Page." The dreaded "404" means the link is broken. If you do a Google search for the County Department, you'll get to the correct County Building Standards Department page, which should be the final resource you'll need.
Here's what the County says when it comes to working in Akron: "The County of Summit, Building Standards Division is responsible for all plan reviews, permits, and inspections related to the Construction, Alteration and Repair for all structures located within the City of Akron, in regards to the Ohio Building Code (OBC) and the Residential Code of Ohio (RCO)."
The County's site even notes there's a "one stop shop" available designed to help not only professionals but also residents, but it may not be helpful if you're in Akron. That's because the County's page tells you to contact the Akron Plans and Permits office at 330-630-7305 or 330-375-2010. If you want to check out the Akron Plans and Permits office online with the link provided on the County's page, good luck; it goes back to the City's main page, where there are helpful links include Akron's Sister City program, a video from Mayor Don Plusquellic on international travel, a 10-year retrospective of Lock 3, "Imagine Akron 2025" which lists the initiative from 2000, and even a badge on how the city site is award-winning.
Come to think of it, maybe a few billable hours for lawyers is in order.