Failure to disclose housing violations is now a crime in Akron and the city is going after a homeowner who allegedly failed to reveal violations to a veteran whose house was demolished.
The city also plans to seek restitution from the homeowner for the demolition costs, estimated at about $8,400.
Akron City Council passed legislation Monday that requires a seller to provide written notification of any housing and zoning violations to a buyer. A first offense is a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 60 days in jail. Subsequent offenses, though, would be a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a potential fine of $750 and 90 days in jail.
“This helps our citizens who might be a victim of this,” said Council President Garry Moneypenny, who co-sponsored the legislation with Mayor Don Plusquellic.
The legislation is in response to a high-profile case involving Larry Modic, a veteran who bought a house in Akron not realizing it had numerous violations and was on the path to being demolished. Modic sued Akron to try to save his house, but a judge sided with the city and the house was torn down last month. A lawsuit challenging the city’s authority to have Modic’s house demolished is still pending.
Council also approved an ordinance Monday that gives the city the authority to take action on Modic’s behalf, with his permission, against John Hufnagel, the owner of the house he bought. The legislation also allows Akron to take action against Hufnagel to recover the cost of demolition, asbestos removal and other expenses from tearing down Modic’s house.
Warner Mendenhall, Modic’s attorney, said it would be inappropriate for Akron to intervene on Modic’s behalf, considering that Modic still has a lawsuit pending against the city.
“I think they’ve interfered with my client enough,” he said. “They’ve hurt him so far. Why would they be helping him now?”
Plusquellic said the city will seek to recover the demolition expenses against Hufnagel regardless of whether Modic grants consent for the city to file a complaint against Hufnagel. He shared a property disclosure statement on the Manchester Road house with council members Monday that was dated Feb. 2, 2012, and included the question, “Do you know of any violations of building or housing codes, zoning ordinances affecting the property or any nonconforming uses of the property?” The “no” box is checked. Modic digitally signed this form March 20.
“This represents the real truth,” Plusquellic said.
The city, which obtained the disclosure form from the Realtor involved with the sale, would normally go after the person who owned the property at the time of the demolition to recover the costs. In this case, that would be Modic.
“We don’t believe that would be appropriate,” Plusquellic said.
Councilman Mike Freeman, who was among several city officials whom Modic threatened while he was trying to spare his house from being torn down, said he thinks the city is being generous offering to help him, despite his actions.
Hufnagel echoed previous comments he made about the home sale Monday when he said he turned the house over to the bank and it was sold as a short sale. He said the house was “stripped” and needed $25,000 to $30,000 in work to make it livable, an expense he wasn’t willing to pay.
“This makes me out to be the bad guy when all I did was turn it over to the bank,” he said. “The house was trashed.”
Hufnagel said anyone who walked through the house could clearly see the condition it was in. He does think, though, that the house could have been fixed up by someone who was willing to put some money into it.
“There was no reason for that house to be demolished,” he said.
Plusquellic said the city will file a motion today in the pending lawsuit that challenges Akron’s authority to tear down Modic’s house. He declined to say what it will be.
A video of Plusquellic’s remarks to council’s Housing Committee and during the council meeting Monday are available on the city’s YouTube site, www.youtube.com/user/cityofakron.