City code inspectors start ‘spring cleaning’Written by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A baby seat that once bounced and spun lay abandoned in the driveway. Jagged glass hunks sprawled across the concrete. A wooden shed sagged into the ground in the backyard, before a forest of twisted blades of grass and weed skeletons. Balled-up underwear rested among them. Gutted Pringles tubes belched out a few potato chip shards. The front of the house on Packard Road, covered in light green siding, didn’t look too shabby but its roof tiles, curled up like blackened orange peels.
This is just the kind of house the city wants to target, said Paula Kozlowski, a code inspector, as she marched up the steps and hung a yellow tag around the doorknob. This day, March 21, marked the second day for the city’s new “Spring Sweeps” initiative. It’s a proactive way to alert homeowners if they are violating maintenance codes and offer them a variety of financial aid programs to make home improvements more affordable. And, if a homeowner is in compliance, there are door hangers to praise him or her.
Bands of code inspectors will focus on one neighborhood and then move to the next, visiting areas deemed on “the tipping point.” These are places that are not entirely consumed by blight but may be in danger of sinking into disrepair. Or, as Mayor Mike Bell put it, places that are “right on the edge of being great.”
“We do get a lot of people who think we’re just out here to cause trouble,” Kozlowski said.
That is one of the reasons why Chris Zervos, director of inspections, wanted to launch “Spring Sweeps.” Up until March 20, the city has responded to maintenance code violations based on complaints, which total about 28,000 a year, he said.
A code inspector will check out the property drawing complaints and if the owner is violating code, he or she will issue a letter to adress the problem. Typically, the homeowner has about 30 days to reply or ask for an appeal if changes are not financially feasible. If nothing is done, the city can take the homeowner to court, where the judge might impose fines ranging from $75 to $250. Continuous infractions can incur fines up to about $600, Zervos said.
The bulk of the complaints flow in from the central city.
“It’s never been cheap and it’s never been easy to own property but it is the American dream,” Zervos said.
He and other city officials suspect that a lot of these homeowners are not aware of the financial assistance that could help them. Thus, the packets that code inspectors hang on door knobs include information about a Habitat for Humanity repair program that sends insulation specialists to provide blown-in insulation for attics. This is free for homeowners whose incomes qualify.
Other programs listed include a down payment assistance grant for first-time homebuyers within 80 percent of the area median income — meaning that the annual income for a family of four could not exceed $50,100. Toledo residents within that range also qualify for loans or grants designated to fix code violations such as leaky roofs, faulty furnaces or crumbling foundations.
Code inspectors will conduct the sweep until June 20. Starting off in the Library Village neighborhood, the crew will later move to Arlington/Burroughs, Secor Gardens, Oakdale/Ravine Park and North Toledo/Point Place areas.
After June 20, the program will continue into other neighborhoods.
The neighborhood that Kozlowski canvassed on the morning of March 21 was in relatively good condition, she said. The row of homes along Packard Street, off Sylvania Avenue, only needed a few notes for poor upkeep. Kozlowski was mostly looking for egregiously chipped paint, cracked foundations and junk in the lawn or overflowing on the porch — one house had stacks of mangled wicker chairs and cardboard boxes stuffed behind its low porch wall.
She tends to give homeowners with minor infractions the benefit of the doubt.
“I try to keep in mind how I would feel,” she said. “If you really wanted to, you could go to any house and find something wrong — but you can’t be too overzealous.”