Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Dohoney: Sanchez complaints about B&I 'false', 'without merit'

2139 Vine Street

In a report to City Council, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. calls claims by a Clifton Heights homeowner that she her rights have been violated by the City's Department of Buildings and Inspections (B&I) "false" and "without merit".

Michelle Sanchez had written two letters to City Council since March 2007 regarding alleged mistreatment from B&I regarding her vacant property at 2139 Vine Street (BIRD'S EYE), which is currently a vacant shell.

The building was condemned in December 2003 while under the care of its former owner, Ralph Moeckel.

A pre-prosecution hearing was held by B&I in April 2004, with Moeckel signing an agreement to comply with the building orders.

After no action was taken to clean up the property, the City prepared a criminal case on the matter.

During the spring of 2005, Moeckel transferred the property as a "gift" to his daughter - Michelle Sanchez.

In his report, Dohoney concludes that Sanchez should have been aware of the pending prosecution.

"Ms. Sanchez accepted title to the condemned building and, therefore, the responsibility to promptly comply with the building code," he said.

New orders

Sanchez received new condemnation orders and the property underwent several subsequent inspections, but after she failed to comply for ten months, the case was referred to criminal court.

At the same time, the building was declared a public nuisance and was slated to be razed by the City.

In mid-2006, architects from Brashear Bolton did a walkthrough of the property, deeming it "a good shell" and claiming that it was not in imminent danger of collapse.

Later inspection teams from Fields Architects, Advantage Group Engineers, Inc. and from Queen City Home Inspection, Inc. reached to the same conclusion.

After razing the collapsing rear portion of the structure, the Board of Building Appeals determined that it could be taken out of the Hazard Abatement Program, but that the building violation orders would remain in effect.

The criminal case against Sanchez lasted 20 months, culminating in a three-day jury trial that ended with a guilty verdict on November 16.

Serious allegations

While Dohoney doesn't take time to address all 193 of Sanchez's questions, he does touch on some of the more serious allegations (paraphrased):

* Attempting to take title to her property
DOHONEY: This was an error by the demolition contractor, who wrongly assumed that the building was owned by the City when filling in the demolition permit application. That permit has since been withdrawn. Even if the City demolishes a building, the title to the land remains with the owner.

* Damaging her building when a neighboring structure was demolished
DOHONEY: 2137 Vine Street was demolished in 2003, before Sanchez acquired her property. No damage is visible in photographs taken at the site, and that none was ever reported by Moeckel at the time.

* Invading personal rights by doing a criminal background search
DOHONEY: Driver's license records were provided by the City Prosecutor's office and are lawfully available for enforcement purposes, and criminal histories are freely available on the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts website.

* Refusal to acknowledge documents pertaining to the case
DOHONEY: Though these reports came after the filing of the criminal complaint and the public nuisance hearing, they were read and considered. However, the building is still a shell and unfit for human habitation.

* Making verbal threats and threatening imprisonment and fines, and public slandering by yelling personal affairs in a public arena
DOHONEY: Sanchez was advised in the pre-prosecution hearing that failure to comply could lead to fines or imprisonment. Both B&I Inspector Wise and Assistant Supervisor Minihan indicated in interviews that they were respectful, polite, did not threaten her and did not yell out personal information.

* Modifying names and dates on documents
DOHONEY: Permits Plus, the data processing system, has security features that prohibit the changing of inspection notes and dates. These can only be modified by personnel from the Regional Computer Center. All documents are also scanned and stored electronically, which preserves the originals.

Case still open

According to Dohoney's report, the building still remains unfit for human habitation, lacking electrical, heating, plumbing, drywall, and numerous windows.

Sanchez is currently on probation, and obtaining a Vacant Building Maintenance License (VBML) will allow her to complete the work at her own pace.

No application for a VBML has been filed.

She is also appealing the criminal conviction, and hearings on the case will begin in April.

Previous reading on BC:
Sanchez: B&I "violated my personal rights" (1/30/08)