By Marc Kovac
Two Youngstown groups are voicing their support for legislation that would enable residents to clean up abandoned properties without being charged with trespassing.
The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. and the Mahoning County Land Reutilization Corp. both urged lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 109, sponsored by Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat from Boardman.
“Why should we continue to force people to choose between obeying the law and defending the safety of their children, the value of their properties and the future of their neighborhoods?” said Tiffany Sokol, representing YNDC.
SB 109 was voted out of committee Tuesday and could have a floor vote in the Ohio House this week.
Under existing law, individuals attempting to clean up trash or mow overgrown lawns of abandoned properties could face criminal charges or civil penalties. Senate Bill 109 would change that.
Sokol said there are 27,000-plus vacant or aban- doned parcels in Youngs-town. The development corporation has worked on about 40 of them, installing boards painted to look like doors and windows as a means of protecting the properties for future owners.
The group and others also have cut grass, picked up trash and maintained landscaping on abandoned parcels.
All of the activities would be considered illegal under Ohio law.
“People must be empowered to stand up and fight blight, not discouraged by the threat of trespassing charges,” Sokol said. “How can we empower neighborhood residents to address basic property conditions when they have to fear trespassing charges?”
Debora Flora, executive director of the Mahoning County Land Reutilization Corp., added in written testimony, “Vacant lots become overgrown with grass and brush. Left unchecked, these vacant lots also attract rodents and other pests. Some will take advantage of vacant lots by illegally dumping garbage and tires on them.”