By David Skolnick
A Poland man is suing Youngstown for demolishing a vacant house he owns on the city’s South Side without informing him.
The house at 3240 South Ave. — across the street from Sam Moffie’s former bar, the Coconut Grove — was demolished Nov. 16 and 17, 2013. Moffie said he found out around mid-December when he drove by the location, his first visit there since July, and filed the lawsuit against the city earlier this month.
The city sent a certified letter and another through the regular mail July 18, 2013, to Moffie’s former residence on Golfview Avenue in Boardman, according to records in a city file on the South Avenue property. Moffie hasn’t lived at that Boardman address for about three years, and both letters were returned to the city.
The letters and a notice posted on the house July 17 stated that a recent inspection determined the house was a “blighted structure, unsafe, and its use or occupancy is prohibited.” If Moffie didn’t repair or demolish the house within 30 days, it would be taken down.
A listing from the auditor’s website, dated May 16, in the city file on Moffie’s house, had his “owner information” and “mail information” addresses as his former Golfview Avenue address. But also in the city file was another auditor document, dated Nov. 5, 12 days before the demolition began, on the South Avenue property that had Moffie’s correct address on South Main Street in Poland.
Other documents sent by the city to Moffie in 2012, including a citation for the South Avenue house’s exterior and his vacant property registration bill, list his correct address. The latter also listed his home and cellphone numbers, and email address.
“Without addressing the specific facts of this case, I’m hoping some reorganization and streamlining of our code enforcement/demolition programs will make sure the information we have is as up-to-date as we can make it,” said Mayor John A. McNally.
The mayor said the city has a problem with absentee landlords.
“There is a responsibility of landlords to maintain their properties,” he said.
A May 2013 inspection by the city listed various exterior problems with the Youngstown property, but stated the interior was secured. The windows and door entrance were boarded up.
The Mahoning County Land Bank handled the demolition project. The inside of the brick house had numerous problems, including fire damage, holes and missing stairs, according to the land bank.
Copper piping was stolen from the house a few years ago, Moffie said.
“Regardless of the shape of the house, it wasn’t going to fall down,” he said. “I should have been given the opportunity to fix my property.”
Moffie said he planned to make improvements to the house, which he acknowledges had problems, this spring with plans to rent it during the summer.
He said he had a handyman visit the property to check on its condition and do routine maintenance work. The last check was around Labor Day, and Moffie said the handyman told him he never saw the city demolition notice on the property.
The city cited Moffie at least twice in 2012 and two more times in 2013, the last one being in April, primarily for high grass and weeds, and paint chipping off the structure.
“As for not seeing the property for five months, what law does that violate?” Moffie said. “It isn’t a question of how often or how frequently I visit my property, but one whether I am aware of the need to take care of something there. I have complied with the law which required me to provide at least three points of contact, my home address, my home phone, my email address.”
He added that Youngstown law “does not require me to visit the property to check to see if the city has notified me of its intent to violate one of my rights by posting a note.”
The city demolition website lists the South Avenue home as being abated of asbestos with no mention of the property’s being gone.
Moffie owes $1,694.48 in delinquent taxes on that property, according to the county auditor’s website.
Moffie filed a federal lawsuit last month claiming the city violated his civil rights by shutting down the Coconut Grove bar last year.
The city police’s vice squad raided the business in November 2012 for selling alcohol without a liquor license. The Ohio Division of Liquor Control rejected the bar’s license-renewal application in August 2012, citing 56 calls for police service there during a 12-month period ending in March 2012. A homicide victim was found in the bar’s parking lot in October 2011. Moffie was found guilty in Youngstown Municipal Court of unlawful storage of beer/liquor in January 2013.