Neighbors demand cleanup

NILES – Charles Johnstone has become a familiar face over the past few years at Niles City Council meetings.

A lifelong resident of the city, his frequent request is a relatively simple one: Do something about the property at 206 Sheridan Ave.

According to Johnstone, a handful of neighbors and city officials, the house, owned by Charles and Karen Pruski, has long been an eyesore in the community.

“We have gone around and around with the city for about 10 years with that house,” Johnstone said. “If you were to drive by the house in the winter, you might think it’s not too bad, but the house is impossible to walk by during the summer because of its smell.”

Neighbors’ complaints are varied, but most focus on sanitary concerns. According to Niles council minutes from the past two years, residents have publicly complained about the property being infested with bugs, fleas and raccoons.

The Pruskis were unavailable for comment for this story. Phone calls and visits to the home went unanswered.

“I had to pay to have eight raccoons caught on my property last year, and six the year before that,” said a Sheridan Avenue resident who asked to remain anonymous, fearing retaliation. “These creatures are showing up in the neighborhood because (the Pruskis’) front porch is four inches thick with bread, corn cobs and sunflower seeds.

“If you have a neighbor feeding those creatures, they’re going to keep coming back,” the resident added. “Now they’ve been coming to my house to bathe because I have a pond on my property.”

Johnstone echoed his neighbor’s sentiment, saying that Niles city officials have visited the property over the years, only to be met with disturbing results.

“(Niles Councilman) Ed Stredney visited the outside of the property to see what it looked like, and he ended up getting covered in fleas, and (Niles health inspector) Mike Burke had the same thing,” Johnstone said.

Stredney was unavailable for comment, but Burke did confirm that he visited the property with a crew last year. The visit was to “deodorize” the property, Burke said, and it was hardly the first time he has had to pay a visit to the house.

“We clean up (the property) and then we get another call about it,” Burke said. “It seems like that house is a problem that does not want to go away.”

Niles zoning inspector Tony Vigorito said that there is little his department could do, as the Pruskis routinely meet his requests for structural upkeep.

“Almost every time, we would issue them a citation for an issue with the outside of their house, and they would take care of it,” Vigorito said. “When our inspectors had issue with their gutters, roof or siding, they would do what we asked them to do.

“This issue is more of a maintenance issue with junk and debris, and it is difficult for us to deal with because it’s a private property.”

Niles Mayor Ralph Infante said that he is familiar with the property, and that he recently began a push to do something about the issue.

“People are complaining that they can’t sit on their porch and enjoy a cup of coffee in the summer because of the smell coming from that house,” Infante said. “At our last nuisance board meeting, I gave them the go-ahead to pursue them in common pleas court and see (if eviction could be a possibility).”

The Pruskis are no stranger to court cases over the years, as the couple appears on 22 entries with Niles Municipal Court dating back to 1999.

The health department brought five littering charges against Charles Pruski on Oct. 8, 2013. Acting Judge Daniel A. Thomas ruled in favor of the city on March 3, finding Pruski guilty on all five charges. Sentencing is set for 9 a.m. April 14 and Burke said that Pruski will likely be facing jail time.

Vigorito noted that city officials had been monitoring the case, electing to wait until Thomas ruled before deciding how best to proceed.

“We were waiting on the outcome of these charges before we decided if we needed to hold another nuisance board meeting about the property,” Vigorito said. “That was what we were waiting for, and now hopefully we can finally get this problem resolved.”

Ultimately, the Pruskis’ fate may be out of Niles’ hands, as Bank of America is pursuing a foreclosure against the family in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court civil division. According to court records, Bank of America filed a claim on Feb. 2 listing the Pruskis, who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2012, as owing $23,000 on the property.

Johnstone acknowledged that the legal system will take time to decide the Pruskis’ fate, but the longtime resident said he just wants problems like this resolved before his neighborhood takes a turn for the worse.

“The next door neighbor to the Pruskis are good people who are selling their house because they cannot even open their windows from the stench,” Johnstone said. “We have two women on this street who are 92 and 94 years old, and I can honestly say they take care of their homes better than Charles Pruski does.

“This was never about (removing the Pruskis from their home),” Johnstone said. “But I moved here 24 years ago, and I just want that property to be cleaned up, and for this community to be a good place to live once again.”