Property owner, contractor question demolition plan

Warren hires own firm to take down fire-damaged home

WARREN — The owner of a fire-damaged house and the contractor she hired to demolish it are at odds with the city’s building official over a decision to have another company tear down the structure.

The July 22 fire at 357 Adelaide Ave. SE caused about $70,000 in damage to the rental property owned by Neff Rentals, and led to owner Virginia Neff to have the house torn down because it “was not economically feasible” to invest in repairs.

Neff received identical $6,500 bids from three companies for the tear down and went with M&M Inc. on Sept. 19 because she said she believed the company would get the job done fast. But another company ended up doing the work, leaving M&M’s owner, James Matash, wondering how the city has the authority to circumvent a contract he had with a private property owner.

And Neff, whose insurance provider paid for the demolition, questions why the city paid the other contractor nearly $7,000 when she said she previously got a bid from the same company for $6,500.

Neff said she gave Matash a $3,250 down payment on Sept. 19. On Sept. 8, Nationwide Insurance sent a check for $10,947 to the city to be placed in its demolition fund to be used in case the city had to demolish the structure. According to city rules, once the structure is demolished and associated costs are paid, the remainder of the funds are turned over to the property owner.

In early October, Matash said he went to the home and found the gas meter had not been turned off. He said he contacted Neff so she could have the meter removed. He said he called the Building Department that week for a demolition permit and was directed to Building Inspector Chris Taneyhill.

Neff, in the meantime, said she was trying to contact Matash because she wanted the home torn down so she could turn the property over to a neighbor. She also said she spoke with Taneyhill on Oct. 14 and asked him “. . . to put a little fire under Matash . . .” to get the house torn down.

“At that point, Mr. Taneyhill said he could get someone else to do the demolition,” she said. “I told him not to do it. I had a written contract with Mr. Matash, so he should not send anyone else out to do it.”

Shortly after, Neff said, she was able to connect with Matash, who assured her he would get the job done.

However, an  Oct. 27 memo Taneyhill sent to Mayor Doug Franklin states Neff gave Taneyhill permission to expedite the process during the Oct. 14  phone conversation. Matash, according to Taneyhill, had not secured the required permits or started to doing the work.

“I advised that the city would begin the process to remove the unsafe structure with the fire escrow funds,” Taneyhill wrote in the memo.

A $6,900 contract was signed between the city and Holeton Inc.on Oct. 18 for the demolition of the property. The money for the demolition came from the check Neff’s insurance company provided the city.

“I had been receiving complaints from neighbors,” Taneyhill said. “The fire had occurred in July and people were concerned about the appearance and that anyone could have gone into the structure.”

Neff, however, said house was secure. “It was locked,” she said. “It was not like the neighborhood kids would get into the house.”

“He hired a company to tear the house down without my permission and did it at a bid price higher than what I had gotten from the same company,” she said. “I am not complaining about the job that Holeton did. The company did an excellent job. However, it did cost me nearly $500 more than I had not intended to spend.”

Matash said he would refund Neff her deposit.