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Deceased woman’s home highlights Austintown’s zoning office challenges

AUSTINTOWN — Zoning Inspector Darren Crivelli knows little about the woman who lived at 78 Anderson Ave., except that her house is now the township’s problem.

Indeed, it is even uncertain what her proper name is.

The death notice for the woman, published in The Vindicator, simply says: “HELEN M. HYNES, 73, of Austintown, died Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. There are no services. (Lane).”

However, the Mahoning County Auditor’s website states that the property belongs to Helen Protain, and so the nuisance declaration resolution that trustees approved at Monday’s regular meeting lists the home as the property of the “Estate of Helen Protain.”

Crivelli said the house is in poor condition, and it highlights one of the challenges zoning officials face.

“When people die without a will, and their house is in terrible condition, those issues are bigger than this office, but we do the best we can,” he said.

The nuisance resolution cites several problems with the property: “miscellaneous items, junk, debris and yard waste stored in an exposed manner within the front yard, rear yard and front porch; a broken cellar window; a chain-link fence in need of razing, repair or replacement.”

Crivelli said the woman also was known to take in and care for feral cats in the neighborhood and the cats caused severe damage to the inside of the house.

The garage also is in bad condition, Crivelli said, and he has spoken to fire department officials about whether or not the garage can be demolished.

Crivelli said neighbors called in late August or September. He had previously issued a nuisance warning to the woman July 24 for debris piling up. Another nuisance resolution was issued Sept. 11, he said. Crivelli said the woman called sometime between those dates to inform him of her illness.

“I think she kind of lost the ability to manage the property when she got sick. I don’t recall receiving any complaints about it before then,” he said.

Crivelli said the woman had no family of which he is aware and added that when people die without leaving their home to someone else’s care, neighbors may assume that the house then belongs to the township. He said Austintown does not bear that responsibility but it will do what is necessary to secure the property and perhaps mow the lawn monthly. He said the township will place a lien on the home to recoup its costs for upkeep once the house is sold.

He said he does not know how long the house will remain vacant or who will assume ownership of the property. Court records do not show an open probate case related to the house or the woman.

Other properties listed on Monday’s resolution include 3315 Black Oak Lane, 28 North Edgehill Ave., 3674 Mahoning Ave., 121 N. Main St., and 39 S. Main St. A separate resolution also cites 20 Lexington Place — listed online as an industrial warehouse for lease — for a nuisance vehicle. The document specified an inoperable Dodge Ram with expired plates parked on the building’s west side.

Crivelli said nuisance vehicle resolutions come after he has already issued a 20-day warning. Once the resolution is sent out, he said, the owner has 14 days from the date they receive the letter to address the problem, or the township will remove it at the owner’s expense. Crivelli said the township issues only nuisance declarations for about 10 to 12 vehicles per year and usually has to tow one or two.

For nuisance properties, owners have seven days to correct the problem — four if they are repeat offenders — before the township handles it and places a lien on the property or assesses the cost, at a minimum of $500, to the owner’s annual tax bill.

Have an interesting story? Contact Dan Pompili at dpompili@vindy.com.

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