Judge's report reveals state of CH housing

Heights Observer readers should take special notice of the report on housing code enforcement by Judge J. J. Costello published in the May issue. In it, the judge reports facts and figures that reveal not only what happens in his courtroom, but what is happening in Cleveland Heights neighborhoods.

Here are some highlights:

  • 97 criminal cases were filed by the city in 2023 to punish housing code violators.
  • The policy of the court is to prioritize compliance over punishment because fixing housing serves the community more than punishment of property owners.
  • Convicted violators [have been] sentenced to probation (technically called community control supervision), under conditions requiring the unlawful conditions to be fixed.
  • In cases where owner-occupants are charged with violations, the court diverts the case and gets the homeowners help from the Home Repair Resource Center in order to avoid prosecuting them.

This orientation toward compliance first is a new strategy in housing courts with forward-looking judges who understand the problems in older residential neighborhoods.

Why are these new measures needed? Judge Costello reports that in 2023 more than one-half of all housing code violation cases were against non-resident owners! This reveals a growing problem in many Heights neighborhoods.

The commercialization of homeownership is a growing challenge to residential sustainability. Seeking profit from homeownership usually depends on low maintenance standards, property tax avoidance, and high turnover of both renters and owners. In addition, business entities are often obscure, evasive and more expensive to regulate than occupying homeowners.  

Fortunately, there are responsible investor-owners of housing here in the Heights. Just as much as homeowners who live in their houses, code-complying investors here need, and benefit from, strong code enforcement. Investment in maintaining good rental housing must be protected from the abusive neglect, blight and abandonment of profiteering code violators. 

Cleveland Heights is one of those places with residential neighborhoods that are increasingly challenged by changing and threatening circumstances. So we should be thankful for a municipal judge who sees and responds to these changing circumstances, and who keeps residents informed on what the court is doing to ensure compliance. 

Kermit Lind

Kermit Lind is a 53-year resident of Cleveland Heights and a lawyer who worked on integrated housing and community development in nonprofit agencies for 13 years. 

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Volume 17, Issue 7, Posted 7:57 AM, 06.26.2024