Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Weeds and Dilapidated Buildings In Portsmouth -- Blame and Excuses


City Manager Derek Allen announced people have been complaining about code enforcement, specifically about high weeds and dilapidated buildings. I assume he was talking about abandoned and neglected properties owned by the city. Yet, properties evidently owned by private individuals are also mentioned in this Daily Times report.

Allen said:

“If the county gets the land bank established and we apply for the funding that is just sitting there waiting for people to get, there should be well over a million dollars for houses to be torn down that are burned – that are abandoned – that are in terrible shape. So hopefully the county acts on that and we’re able to receive that money. Absent that money, we don’t have money to tear down houses.”

Allen said the city had received a grant of approximately $250,000 several years ago and that money, along with some of the city’s capital improvement funds had been spent to tear down buildings.

Allen continued:

“The reason why we aren’t mowing, we don’t have the money to mow all the properties that have high weeds. We recognize that they have high weeds. We can send notices out, if there’s somebody that’s living there, and they do it – great. But a lot of these houses are abandoned. You pull it up on the Auditor’s website and they’ll have delinquent taxes. Some of them are over five years delinquent. We don’t have the staff to go out and mow properties. I hate to remind everybody, but we are still under fiscal watch.”

The Street Department is down to seven employees.

“So they’re supposed to fix the roads. They’re supposed to mow all the parks, mow the right-of-way, and now we say, let’s have them mow houses with high weeds,” Allen said. “We aren’t prepared to do that yet. It’s all we can do to maintain what we’re doing.”

That led to a reaction by Third Ward Councilman Kevin E. Johnson.

“With all due respect to what you were just saying – and I want to say this respectively – it just sounds like a bunch of excuses,” Johnson said. “We say we can’t cut grass on properties, that we don’t have the money. We just asked the taxpayers to pay more money. It’s a mower. It’s a weedeater. It’s some bushhogs. Don’t we have jail programs where people have to pay off their fines? Can’t they work? I’m asking.”

(Frank Lewis. “Two member of City Council challenge city manager. Portsmouth Daily Times. 
May 10, 2016.)

Unkempt Property

Why does the City of Portsmouth own property that it cannot maintain? It reminds me of local slumlords who own houses and who do little to upkeep their properties, preferring to collect rent from those in the hovels all the while neglecting any necessary improvements. These landlords own eyesores that threaten inhabitants and neighbors on local streets and roads.

It seems the new standard of care for community is this: “I have the right to do it, so it doesn't matter what negative outcomes my neighbors suffer from my independence.” Many lazy and ignorant people develop an attitude of indifference about simply taking care of their possessions. I see it everywhere and wonder how caring human beings could present their neighbors and communities with these environmental hazards.

Let's see what the city itself passed in Codified Ordinances of Portsmouth, Ohio (Complete to June 22, 2015).


All vacant structures and premises thereof or vacant land shall be maintained in a clean, safe, secure and sanitary condition as provided herein so as not to cause a blighting problem or adversely affect the public health or safety.
(Ord. 1981-12. Passed 2-10-81.)

1319.10 GENERAL.

The exterior of a structure shall be maintained structurally sound and sanitary so as not to pose a threat to the health and safety of the occupants and so as to protect the occupants from the environment.
(Ord. 1981-12. Passed 2-10-81.)


(a) Where a provision of this Housing Code is found to be in conflict with a provision of any zoning, building, fire, safety or health ordinance or code of the City existing on the effective date of this Housing Code (May 11, 1963), being applicable to existing housing, the provision which establishes the higher standard for the promotion and protection of the health and safety of the people shall prevail.

Where a provision of this Housing Code is found to be in conflict with a provision of any other ordinance or code of the City existing on the effective date of this Housing Code (May 11, 1963), which establishes a lower standard for the promotion and protection of health and safety of the people, the provisions of this Housing Code shall prevail, and such other ordinances or codes are hereby declared to be repealed to the extent that they may be found to be in conflict with this Housing Code.

1319.99 PENALTY.

Whoever violates any provision of this chapter is guilty of a second degree misdemeanor.
(Ord. 1981-12. Passed 2-10-81.)

The ordinances abound with words that call for proper maintenance – clean, safe, secure, sanitary, structurally sound. Nothing in the codes allows for excuses. Violations are the same for city-owned property neglect and private-owned property neglect. Lack of money may be an excuse; however, the law is clear – “the higher standard for the promotion and protection of the health and safety of the people shall prevail.” 

I find it irresponsible for the city to neglect its own properties. Also, I also do not understand why the city does not prosecute people who own abandoned buildings and unsanitary structures. Perhaps people who own these trashy premises are able to exert some kind of influence upon those who are charged with patrolling neighborhoods and enforcing notices. Where is the problem with making property owners properly maintain their investments? If they cannot, the properties should be sold.

Yes, Third Ward Councilman Kevin E. Johnson, the city “just asked the taxpayers to pay more money.” And, it does sound like “a bunch of excuses.” Now it is time for the city to fulfill promises of safety, security, and health for its residents. Weeds, fallen down structures, filthy properties, intentional neglect of duties required to own and rent properties – whoever possesses the real estate must fix the problems. When they do not, the owners must be held to comply with ordinances the city has passed.

The general condition of the City Building itself can certainly be termed disgraceful. Of course, excuses abound for that. Still, for a resident to see a structure in need of basic general improvements – sandblasting, painting, routine physical maintenance – says a lot about the character of a town and its refusal to maintain structures still in use. Questions about safety and liability certainly exist.

Some of the cleanup required is not that expensive. The truth is that this maintenance is hard work that involves significant human effort. Is the truth “we can't afford it” or “we don't want to expend the energy”? Either way, a city or an individual who owns property has an obligation to the common good to carry out the work, and the property owner also must take all measures to comply with the Codified Ordinances of Portsmouth, Ohio.

To complain about “getting complaints” from those who legitimately want their city to be safer and healthier is nonproductive and amounts to passing the buck. Many of those in Portsmouth feel our pocketbooks have been drained as significant bucks have been passed to the city in the form of taxes. Where does the buck stop? In this case, the key word to the answer is ownership. No matter what "check is in the mail" for funding, immediate concerns must be met.

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