2With those fighting words, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine served notice last week that his commitment to eradicate blight and save neighborhoods in old cities by pursuing slum landlords is more than political pandering.
Indeed, DeWine’s comment came just hours after the announcement Friday that a lawsuit has been filed in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court against the owners of the vacant, dilapidated St. Joseph Riverside Hospital complex in Warren. The plaintiffs are the state of Ohio (through the attorney general) and the city of Warren (through Mayor Doug Franklin and Law Director Greg Hicks).
The defendants are Euro-American Finance Network Inc. and Ljubica Stefanovic, both of Leesburg, Fla., owners of the former hospital property on Tod Avenue. Also named in the suit is Slavoljub Stefanovic, president of Euro-American and husband of Ljubica.
Four months ago, we urged DeWine to get involved with Warren officials in going after the owners of the former hospital.
The health department, which condemned the building Nov. 16, sent health inspectors inside in December in protective suits with breathing equipment. They were unable to travel through the entire building because of unsafe conditions.
“The main problem with all of these buildings is that people out of state buy them as an investment and don’t put any money into them and nobody does anything until they get into this condition,” said Bob Weitzel, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association. Weitzel’s daughter was born in St. Joseph.
Warren city government officials have tried to get the owner to tear down the crumbling, unsafe structure, but he has snubbed them.
Stefanovick has told the city that he has no money and asked, “Why don’t you demolish it?”
The demolition price tag is more than $1 million, which Warren does not have.
In our editorial in December, we argued that even if the city could pay for the demolition, it would have a difficult time recovering the money from the owners.
Not so the state of Ohio, which is why we urged Attorney General DeWine to join forces with city officials.
DeWine has launched a major statewide initiative to eradicate blight and of the $75 million in the Moving Ohio Forward Grant Program, Trumbull County received $1.2 million and Mahoning County got $1.5 million. The cities of Warren and Youngstown captured most of the money.
The large number of dilapidated structures makes demolition a priority.
The former St. Joseph Riverside Hospital complex occupies 240,000 square feet, making it a gigantic eyesore.
Attorney General DeWine’s comment about not letting slum landlords get away with breaking the law sends a clear signal that the state will use every weapon in its arsenal to punish property owners who have no sense of community.
The lawsuit seeks to order the demolition of the property, declare the defendants responsible for costs incurred by Warren in demolishing the property, and reimburse Warren for costs associated with the previous demolition of a separate structure and providing public-safety services at the property. The lawsuit also seeks interest and costs.
The legal action is important for the message it delivers to out-of-town property owners: Don’t come into cities like Warren and Youngstown and disrespect them by allowing your buildings to become eyesores and a danger to public health and safety.