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Municipal court extends housing offenses amnesty

Tall grass, paint common violations

Municipal-court-extends-housing-offenses-amnesty-07-02-2011

Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell speaks about the court's amnesty program for those with warrants for property violations. He predicted the court will hold such an amnesty week at least once every four months. The program, which ends Friday, has drawn many calls from violators, the judge said.

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Demonstrated interest combined with the large number of nuisance properties led a Toledo Municipal Court Judge to extend this week's Amnesty Program for Housing Violations until Friday.

The extension will give property owners more time to show up to court, Judge C. Allen McConnell said. He said he also expects the court to hold an amnesty week at least once every four months.

Judge McConnell said many people called the office the past few days, explaining they would not be able to attend court this week, and requested an extension.

He said the extension makes sense because "it seems many people are just hearing about it now."

This is the second year the court has offered an amnesty week. The last one was in 2004, an effort Judge McConnell called "moderately successful." He said this program has been far more successful and has proven the need for a more regular amnesty program to help alleviate the high number of property violations.

"I don't think it's going to take care of itself in one or two weeks," he said. "This is probably something we'll do on a quarterly basis."

On Monday, the beginning of Amnesty Week, there were 1,954 warrants. Judge McConnell said that number has lowered this week, but only slightly. He did not know the exact number as of Friday.

"It's gone down, but has not considerably gone down," he said. "It would be nice if I could say it went down by 200 or 300."

He said, however, he expects more property owners in court next week.

"I think the knowledge [of Amnesty Week] is much more broad than it was [in 2004.] All the calls we've gotten lead me to believe the information has gotten out much better," the judge said. "We've had newspaper ads, press conferences, posters in the lobby, and newspaper articles."

The judge said appearing in court during Amnesty Week won't waive a defendant's fees and fines, but property owners are urged to attend because they won't be arrested.

"They come in, and I remove the bench warrant fees," he said. "Then I reschedule them for another appearance date after ... I have a housing specialist speak with them."

Anyone who doesn't appear for violations will maintain the warrant and could be arrested.

City fines range from $500 to $5,000, Judge McConnell said, but he did not know how much the city is owed in total for violations. "It's a large number," he said.

The judge said the time limit allotted for correction of a problem depends on the type of problem and the resources available to the owner.

He said the most common property violations include painting and high-grass violations. Painting makes up an exceptionally high percentage of the violations, he said.

Trends in property violations vary depending on the season. "One of the highest ones in summertime is grass violations, when it's growing 2-3 feet," he said.

A constant in property violations, however, seems to be vacant, abandoned houses.

"Many houses in Toledo are vacant, and need to be boarded and secured," he said.

Property owners wishing to go to court during the extended amnesty week should visit the clerk's office.

Staff writer Taylor Dungjen contributed to this report.

Contact Sara Felsenstein at: sfelsenstein@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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