Judge rules in favor of Akron in demolition of veteran's house
Akron Beacon Journal
AKRON, Ohio — A Summit County judge on Thursday upheld the city of Akron’s decision to demolish the house of an Army veteran who had threatened to kill anyone who attempted to take his property.
Common Pleas Judge Paul Gallagher ruled against Lawrence “Larry” Modic’s request for a court order to block the planned demolition of the house he bought on Manchester Road near Summit Lake.
“Lost,” Modic said of his feelings immediately after the decision. “I’ve been screwed. ... I can take a hint.”
Modic has said he was not aware of the numerous code violations with the house when he paid $10,000 for it last May, nor that the problems under the previous owner had reached the point of the city moving to raze the structure.
Meanwhile, Mayor Don Plusquellic said Thursday he has asked the city law department to file a third-party complaint, as part of Modic’s continuing lawsuit, against the former owner of the home “who sold the property to Mr. Modic without telling him of the housing code violations.”
Modic, 57, was told he could remove his belongings from the home Saturday morning with city officials and police present. State Rep. Zack Milkovich, D-Akron, said he would find a storage facility for Modic’s personal items.
Asbestos removal is expected to take place Monday, and demolition could occur Tuesday, city officials said.
Akron police took Modic into custody Jan. 15, and he was transported to an Akron mental health facility. He later was treated for about 10 days at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center’s Wade Park facility.
Police said they picked up Modic to protect the public and for his own safety because of threats he had made as demolition appeared imminent. Inside the home, police found four loaded rifles and a loaded handgun along with boxes of ammunition and a flak jacket.
Modic, a resident of Lakewood who spent some nights in the Akron house, appeared before the Housing Appeals Board in June to address the code violations. He was given 30 days to make repairs. In July, he was given another 60 days.
He failed to appear at the September meeting, however, and the board voted to condemn the house. Under city law, Modic had 30 days to appeal that decision, but he did not, saying he had no money to pay for a lawyer.
Attorney Warner Mendenhall, who represented Modic in the case heard Thursday, is working for free. He said he will continue to work on remaining issues in the case against the city following Gallagher’s decision.
“There are a lot of possibilities here,” Mendenhall said.
Mendenhall said because the city health and building departments have been merged with county departments, the city does not have the power to tear down homes.
“The county has that power,” Mendenhall said.
In a written statement, Plusquellic praised Gallagher’s decision, “especially for the neighbors who have endured living near and complained about the property for over nine years.”
He said the city’s decision to file a third-party suit against the previous owner “is the right thing to do to truly help Mr. Modic, and any attorney worth his salt would have filed an action against the previous owner, instead of grandstanding for his own personal/political agenda.”
Plusquellic said Mendenhall’s actions “were clearly not meant to help Mr. Modic. And someday, everyone in Akron, not just the 70 percent who know now, will realize that Mendenhall has a personal agenda for every devious action he takes.”
Mendenhall, who has sparred with the mayor on numerous occasions over many topics, said Plusquellic was “admitting nine years of negligence by the city. Had they dealt with this property nine years ago, Mr. Modic would not have gotten into this trick box.
“Mayor Plusquellic absolutely knows we did not get into this case to grandstand.”
A week ago, the city rejected a plan Mendenhall submitted in which nearly 20 individuals and organizations said they would work to repair Modic’s home.
It was only after that rejection, Mendenhall said, that “we filed a lawsuit.”
This week, Plusquellic and Council President Garry Moneypenny introduced legislation that would require home sellers in Akron to give potential buyers written notification of any housing and zoning violations. Failure to do so would be a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 60 days in jail.
The city’s issues with the property under previous owner John Hufnagel date back to 2003.
On Thursday, Hufnagel said he turned the house over to the bank that held the mortgage, sold it in a short sale and was not closely involved in the deal with Modic.
“I sympathize with Mr. Modic,” Hufnagel said.
He said thieves stole copper piping, the furnace, hot-water tank and many other fixtures.
“The house was trashed,” he said.
Hufnagel said orders from the city “were plastered all over the front door. ... You had to be blind to not see it.”
The city has been aggressive in dealing with blighted properties in recent years. Last year, Akron tore down nearly 600 homes.
Even though Modic was upset with Thursday’s ruling, he said he still hasn’t given up.
“As long as there is still another higher court, a higher being, I feel there is hope,” he said.