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Published: Monday, 8/22/2005

Presale OK for homes is stalled

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Ford administration's proposal requiring some Toledo homeowners to get building inspections before they sell has stalled - with a majority of Toledo City Council members saying they do not support the legislation.

The proposal has been swept into council's community and neighborhood development committee, where it will further undergo the scrutiny of a city-appointed task force that has yet to be given a deadline.

Proponents of the legislation say they've been debating the law for many years, and further debate is unwarranted. But Council President Louis Escobar and Councilman Michael Ashford, chairman of the committee, say the legislation needs work before they'll support it.

Council member Karyn McConnell Hancock agreed, saying the law, which pits community housing groups against area Realtors and investors, is slanted too much in favor of its community housing supporters.

"I think it could move a little bit toward a happy medium," she said. "I think it makes it difficult for our investors, and our good landlords. We can't assume because a landlord's absent they're doing a bad job."

Council member Frank Szollosi, while saying he "absolutely supports the goals and visions of the proponents of the legislation," mimicked Realtors' claims that existing legislation may already address the problem, and said he worried about "unintended consequences," such as problems arising from the transfer of property from a dead family member.

"It seems like we're accepting our own excuse that we don't have enough folks to enforce existing codes, and we're trying to 'silver bullet' it with legislation. I'm not comfortable with that approach," he said.

Council member Ellen Grachek said she supports the legislation, but cautiously backs the task force.

"I'm all for the democratic process of engaging various stakeholders and constituencies. That's fine - but if it's an obstructionist delay, or rooted in obstructionist intentions, that's a problem," she said.

Councilman Rob Ludeman, solidly against the legislation, said he'd prefer to skip the task force and put the legislation to a vote. "I am just opposed to it, period," he said.

Mayor Jack Ford, who said he put forth the legislation to protect unsophisticated home buyers from "quick-fix" owners and to improve area housing stock, said he expected a "robust debate," and does not see council as being obstructionist.

"It's part of the process when you have controversial legislation with strong stakeholders on both sides," he said, adding that he will keep a close eye on the legislation to make sure it does not languish in committee.

The legislation would require those trying to sell a residential building or house to obtain a certificate saying the property complies with city building codes if they haven't lived on the site in the previous six months.

Violating the ordinance would be a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $10,000. The city would also have a lien against any violator.

Members of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc., which drafted a version of the legislation and gave it to the city, said it was modeled after similar legislation from a batch of Cleveland suburbs, from wealthy Shaker Heights to less affluent "inner-ring" suburbs such as Cleveland Heights and Lakewood.

John Gibbon, law director of Cleveland Heights, said the city, with its 50,000 population - 40 percent of that minorities - and a housing stock birthed in the 1950s, has had point-of-sale on the books since the 1970s.

Like Toledo, he noted that the city has some wealthy areas and areas of blight, but claimed the point-of-sale law has done wonders for maintaining the area's older housing stock.

Detroit also has had a point-of-sale law on the books since 1976, requiring all one and two-family dwellings to get a city inspection before they are sold.

But opponents of Toledo's legislation point to the Motor City, with its thousands of empty or abandoned structures, as evidence that such laws do little to improve housing stock.

Mr. Ashford's committee will meet Aug. 29 to convene the task force, which will include four community housing representatives, and four representatives supporting realty groups.

But some worry about just who will be on it.

Terry Glazer, president of the Greater Toledo Housing Coalition - the group credited as the primary proponent of the legislation - was blunt about his frustration that he was excluded. He accused council of placing representatives on his side that have too little experience with the issue.

"The task force is being stacked," Mr. Glazer said. "They're just going through the motions. This is a waste of everybody's time."

"I've been on this issue for over five years. As president, for the last three. It's not about me, it's about having the people involved on both sides coming up with a realistic solution," he said. "I think what it really shows is that [council] is not sincere about this."

Mr. Escobar claimed he excluded Mr. Glazer because he didn't want the task force to be "too large."

"He may see himself as one of the primary proponents, but everyone else doesn't see him that way," Mr. Escobar added.

Mr. Escobar said Chester Chambers, past president and current treasurer of the housing coalition, would sit on the task force; Linda Furney, a lobbyist for the coalition, declined.

Another person asked by council to attend was Kim Coucher, head of North River Development Corp., who said that other than some limited discussion, she had very little experience with the issue.

She declined the seat, adding that she was surprised she was offered.

"It needs to be balanced. If you're going to have strong representation on one side, you need to have strong representation on the other side," she said.

One person who has accepted an invitation to represent Realtors is Jerry Sawicki, a Maumee-based Realtor and long-time opponent of the legislation who keeps an eight-inch binder filled with arguments against it.

But Jeanne Johns, legislative director of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc., said it "might not be such a bad thing" to get some new blood in to debate the issue.

Contact Tad Vezner at: tvezner@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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