WARREN City gives a rundown on landlord; officials say properties violate code
A lawyer said he doesn't know anything about the properties in question.
By AMANDA C. DAVIS
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Gloria and Edward Sersich recall a time when neighbors gathered at the West Park Drive home of John and Opal Miller, where they could always count on laughter, food and good conversation.
Today, the Sersiches warn people to stay away from the property.
The Millers died about five years ago, leaving belongings and a home that would never be the same.
The house, which the Millers rented at 658 W. Park Drive, has been condemned and will be torn down at the city's expense. The city will then seek reimbursement from the property owner, Donald Guarnieri.
Stern warning: The city's health board issued a stern warning last week to Guarnieri, saying it intends to pursue similar action with other properties he owns that aren't up to code.
The board says Guarnieri has not complied with health regulations and refuses its certified mail.
Mayor Hank Angelo calls the house a "death trap."
Guarnieri, a lawyer, won't say much other than that he "doesn't know anything" about the properties in question.
He said he's one of the owners of Warner Realty and he will comply with any orders issued by the city.
Angelo said Warner Realty is a holding company.
Business partnerships: Robert Pinti, deputy health commissioner, said Guarnieri has properties tied up in several business partnerships.
When complaints are lodged or he's ordered to make improvements, Pinti said, Guarnieri moves the holdings into other corporations.
Condemned house: The one-story condemned house sits in a southwest neighborhood off Hamilton Street, lined mostly with prefabricated homes.
A large piece of siding is draped across the front porch, grass has not been cut recently, and a hole was left in the front of the house when someone stole an air conditioner left by the Millers, Edward Sersich said.
His wife said the home is used as a playhouse for kids, a home for stray cats and dogs and a place where addicts gather to smoke crack.
The Sersiches, who have lived across the street 29 years, say neighbors saw the inside of the home when they chased children out.
They describe it as rat-infested and littered with garbage and animal feces. The structure is unstable, some sections of ceiling are missing, and other sections are sagging, they say.
The only time they've seen Guarnieri at the house is when he put it up for sale when the Millers died.
The Sersiches say they and other neighbors help mow the lot for appearance's sake.
"We have 14 grandchildren, and we don't let them out of our yard," Gloria Sersich said. "We want our neighborhood back."
Other properties: Angelo said Guarnieri also owns the vacant Ames plaza on Parkman Road, a vacant plaza in Champion, the dilapidated Imperial Hotel on East Market Street in Warren and a West Side apartment building, where some units are occupied and others are condemned.
He owned the Mahoning Building on East Market Street when it was foreclosed on a number of years ago.
It was then sold back to Guarnieri during a sheriff's sale, the mayor said.
"This guy has basically stifled downtown growth," Pinti said.
Needs help: The city will make a concerted effort to clean up ramshackle homes, rental dwellings and other properties.
Pinti said residents need to lodge complaints to make his department aware of eyesores and health and safety issues.
He estimates there are 6,500 registered rental properties in Warren and 1,000 or more that are not registered.
Checking ownership is often difficult. Demolition is a last resort and the city tries to be lenient, Pinti said, adding that Guarnieri has been given more than enough time to bring his properties up to code.
When the city tells Guarnieri to make improvements, Pinti said, he does little.
An example he gave is the chain-link fence Guarnieri placed around the perimeter of the Imperial Hotel when the city said there were safety and liability concerns.
Another problem is that Guarnieri asks "outlandish" selling prices for some properties, making it difficult to find interested buyers, Pinti said.
Motorcycle shop: Angelo said Harley Davidson left its downtown location on High Street and moved to Bazetta, in part because of Guarnieri.
Owners of the motorcycle shop were interested in buying the Imperial property, Angelo said, but Guarnieri wanted them to lease the property and pay to tear down the vacant hotel and construct a new building.
The mayor noted that the hotel was vacated more than 20 years ago and has broken-out windows and unregistered vehicles on the lot.
Guarnieri said he doesn't consider himself a slumlord.
The mayor calls him an irresponsible landlord and "one of the major landholders" in Warren.
"He has no respect for the citizens of Warren, the people who have provided for his financial success," Angelo said.