Potential COG will battle bad landlords

WARREN — Distant slum lords with a record of bad practices could come under fire if a county-wide council of governments is formed.

Brookfield Trustee Gary Lees is heading the committee that is planning how the COG — which could form before the end of the year — could target blight better.

While the Trumbull County Land Bank handles the demolition of qualifying properties behind on property taxes, there is not a lot of recourse against limited liability companies who own homes in Trumbull County but are headquartered out of state, Lees said.

“This is a county problem, not just a Brookfield problem. We need to work together to fix it, not separately,” Lees said.

Frank Fuda, county commissioner, said local governments across the state and country are dealing with LLCs that buy up homes cheaply, do not invest any money into maintenance and let them deteriorate.

“The problem with LLCs is, you never know who owns them. They are from all over the country, you can’t reach them, you can’t make them do anything,” Fuda said.

The group may need the help of the Ohio General Assembly legislators who represent the area, Lees said. He said LLCs need to be held to more stringent rules — like refusing to let them buy properties if other houses they own have back taxes or maintenance issues.

A COG might be able to target blight in a more dynamic way, Lees said. The COG is being designed to help communities in the county share resources in ways that are prohibited under Ohio law.

“We may not have to tear down homes, we might be able to find a way to force them to clean up the properties,” Lees said.

The COG could work to bring an environmental court — which is found in other areas — to the county, Lees said. The court could handle code violations at a faster pace than many municipal courts, Lees said.

But if a home does need to be torn down, the committee is working on ways to make sure the COG could do the job as efficiently as possible.

Howland Trustee James LaPolla, leading the steering committee for the COG, said there may be ways to save Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership money on the demolitions, enabling more to be done.

Under the COG, the engineer’s office could submit proposals to TNP to demolish homes, saving them cash by negotiating for cheaper asbestos abatement and lower dumping fees.

Lees said the COG might be able to work out a deal with the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office to use some of its government surplus equipment.

All of the ideas are still in the planning stages. By-laws for the COG are expected to be prepared for a September meeting.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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