Mayor Don Plusquellic may have just found the "smoking gun" in a case that had Akron in an uproar a few weeks back, and critics wondering why the City of Akron was tearing down the house of an Army veteran.
Plusquellic will push tonight for City Council approval for the government to work on Modic's behalf, even though his lawyer earlier turned down the offer, to be made whole. He also wants the City to recoup it's costs of $8399 for tearing the house and the asbestos abatement that came with it.
It turns out the paperwork from a required state disclosure form may be just what the City needs to help Larry Modic get his money back, and the city reimbursed for the money they spent tearing down the house Modic purchased at 1480 Manchester Road. Modic said he was unaware the house had a considerable history with building inspectors and was on the short list for demolition.
The story made headlines in January when appeals to stay a demolition order on property Modic purchased for $10,000; Modic appeared twice before a building appeals board but missed a third meeting and the City went ahead with demolition of the property. The case had plenty of twists and turns, including the bureaucracy of real estate but also the spectacle as Modic himself threatened harm against anyone who came on his property to enforce the order, a threat that eventually led to police oversight of his removal of items from the property before it was torn down. It also had the politically-charged back-and-forth between Akron's administration and frequent Plusquellic critic Warner Mendenhall, who took up Modic's cause.
While the political debate centered on whether it was legal for the City to demolish substandard houses and buildings, the basic question of just how Modic came to buy property he thought was cleared for renovation was never adequately answered. During a conversation with this reporter, Mendenhall said they were aware state disclosure laws put the responsibility of honestly selling the property on the former owner, John Hufnagel. But he stopped short of saying he would file suit against Hufnagel for not disclosing the condition of the house when Modic purchased it, even on a direct question on why they weren't pursuing a legal remedy against the former property owner. Instead, Mendenhall pursued the direction of challenging the City's legal power to demolish the house.
AkronNewsNow even posed the question again when the City Council considered a proposed local regulation to require disclosure, even as the State of Ohio already had existing language and forms available on-line requiring honest disclosure of any building problems prior to the sale.
Now Mayor Plusquellic is using the State of Ohio Residential Property Disclosure Form signed on February 2, 2012 by John and Pauline Hufnagel and on March 8, 2012 as evidence in his bid to have the City pursue Hufnagel not only for the liability Modic suffered when his $10,000 investment was torn down, but also the nearly $8,400 the City spent to demolish the house.
The form, available in .pdf form linked below, indicates the Hufnagel's disclosed there were "problems or defects" with the electrical, plumbing and central heating systems in the house. It also lists "no" to the question of whether the property is subject to "...any violations of housing or building codes, zoning ordinances affecting the property or any nonconforming uses of the property." That's a key issue in the dispute.
Plusquellic contends the liability for the property should be Hufnagel's, not Modic's, and says he is pursuing the issue through Council to "get to the bottom" of the story.
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(City of Akron - news release) Today, City of Akron attorneys are delivering to Modic’s attorney a draft complaint against John W. Hufnagel, the person who sold Modic the property, with an offer to file the action on Modic’s behalf. Mayor Don Plusquellic is seeking approval at tonight’s City Council meeting to step in and take action against the responsible party. If City council authorizes the City Law Department to file on behalf of Modic, then a final copy will be delivered to Modic’s attorney tomorrow. (The City is prohibited from filing on Modic’s behalf, without Modic’s approval.)
Mayor Don Plusquellic has made it clear from the beginning, that if Modic is right, and Modic did not know that the property he bought had numerous housing violations and orders, then his attorney should have filed an action on Modic’s behalf against the seller, who withheld those facts.
“If Modic’s attorney really wants justice for Modic, he would have sued the Seller of the property in the first place,” said Mayor Don Plusquellic. “Having not filed such an action on behalf of Modic, the City is ready to step up and file a Complaint on Modic’s behalf to determine once and for all who should be responsible selling a house that was already in housing appeals board process without notifying Modic. This is really the only chance Modic has of recouping his money from the actual wrongdoers.”
Just to recap the facts of this case, Larry Modic purchased a property in Akron for $10,000. Modic then accused the seller (John Hufnagel) of selling him a property that had numerous pending housing code violations, without notifying him of the housing orders. In fact, at the time of the sale, the property was already scheduled for a Housing Appeals Board (HAB) hearing.
Subsequent to the sale, Modic attended two HAB hearings and was given two extensions of time to make the necessary repairs to the property. The City worked with Modic up until the time he failed to attend the last HAB hearing, and he failed to make the necessary repairs. At that time, HAB ruled the property should be demolished. Despite being informed on how to appeal HAB’s order, Modic did not appeal the demolition order.
Modic then proceeded to threaten City employees. Subsequently, a loaded large caliber rifle with scope, two other loaded large caliber rifles, a loaded shotgun, a loaded large caliber handgun, additional ammunition, and body armor was confiscated from the property, and the property was razed.
Despite his allegations against the seller of the property, Modic’s attorney has not pursued any action against the seller, but instead, has brought suit against the City.
Additionally, the Mayor will be urging Council to pass the legislation currently before it, requiring property owners to provide written notice of pending building and/or housing code violations prior to the transfer or sale of property in Akron.