The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 21, 2012

Owners pay bill for criminal nuisance properties

Staff Writer

ASHTABULA — The city is mailing its first bills to property owners cited under its criminal nuisance legislation, City Solicitor Michael Franklin said.

“This legislation, passed last year, allows us to bill the owners of problem properties for our costs involved in responding to repeat complaints of criminal violations,” he said. “The idea is to give the owner an incentive to get rid of tenants who are drug dealers, thieves and brawlers. We don’t want them here.”

The ordinance allows Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell to notify an owner of the existence of a criminal nuisance after two similar calls for service from the police department within a year. Target violations include drug dealing, theft and assault.

“After the notice, the owner can appeal. If he and she doesn’t appeal, the next call for service is followed by a bill, and if the bill is not paid, it is assessed against the tax duplicate the following year,” Franklin said.

Franklin gave Stell and Ashtabula police detective William Felt the credit for the program.

“Without the chief’s backing and Felt’s hard work, we couldn’t begin a program like this,” he said.

The first property owner to be billed is Rekha Kapadia, owner of the Downtown Motel, 424 Center St., according to city records.

Kapadia was served with his notice Feb. 19, and he did not appeal, according to city records. Soon after, police officers were involved in a drug-related assault at the motel, Franklin said. That cost the city about $360 in police salaries.

The second property is 502 W. 46th St., owned by Alaina Hagler. She was served with her notice by certified mail after April 5, records show. There has been no appeal date set. Thereafter, two officers had to assist the FBI in serving a warrant to a drug dealer, who was living in the upstairs apartment, Franklin said. That cost the city about $240 in police salaries.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about cleaning up neighborhoods and giving absentee landlords a real incentive to pay attention to their tenants,” Franklin said.

He is convinced that getting into people’s wallets is more effective than the threat of jail.

“Look at the traffic camera program,” Franklin said. “Overnight the average speed of traffic on West Avenue dropped from around 50 mph to 35 mph (after the traffic enforcement camera was placed on the street). Now the cameras are gone, and it’s back to a race track again, no matter how many tickets we issue.”

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