Class-action law suit against absentee landlords threatened by Northwood Civic Association

A class-action law suit against property owners who rent their homes in Northwood could be looming in the coming months, warned neighborhood civic association President Barry Howell at last night’s meeting.

“I don’t know how rentals came to Northwood, but they won’t stay,” Howell said to 26 attendees. “If they don’t own it, they can leave.”

Rental properties require special zoning, and many fall under a commercial jurisdiction, which board member Joe Krause says is illegal under the neighborhood’s more than 80-year-old Burk Deed Restriction [PDF]. Such properties would need zoning permission and often a business privilege license. He pointed to properties along Foulkrod Street as examples of a string of rentals.

Krause encouraged residents to tell the board about any other rental properties in Northwood, so the civic association can investigate the possibility of building the case and taking it to court. There, the board says it feels it could be successful in finding a new way to combat the influx of rental properties that many neighborhoods in the Northeast say are helping to fracture their safe, cared-for communities.

“No residential deed restriction has ever been overturned,” Krause said.

Howell spoke throughout the 70-minute meeting of doing something “bold” to improve the neighborhood.

“We’ve evened out,” he said. “For a while we were fighting a decline, but now we’ve finished off a lot of these zoning issues from the past, and now we’re going to move upward.”

The latest zoning issue the Northwood civic calls a success is the result of a special city zoning board hearing held Oct. 7 on 950 Fillmore St., which had a second-floor addition, a front patio and more unlicensed work completed. The board required the owner to demolish the addition or appeal the decision within 30 days, Howell reported.

Howell read a letter from the board’s attorney, which complimented the association for collecting several volunteers to testify at the hearing against the Fillmore Street property changes.

This victory is a direct result of “the relentless participation and desire to see this through of the Northwod Civic Association,” the letter read.

Howell drew comparisons from that single victory to the civic’s aspirations for the future, including attacking the absentee landlords whom the board criticizes for devaluing their properties, damaging the community and, the board alleges, flying in the face of zoning law.

“If we stick together, we will win any case that comes before the zoning board and any other fight that comes our way,” Howell said. “We can change Northwood.”

Below read other action from the meeting:

Also at the meeting: Rush the Cemetery

We want to see some evidence that Benjamin Rush ever lived there, was the call to arms by Northwood Civic Association president Barry Howell and fellow board members.

In the association’s 2006 deal to give blessing to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America‘s eastern regional medical center located at 1331 East Wyoming Avenue, a pool of money exceeding $800,000 was donated toward the beautification of the neighboring Knights of Pythias Greenwood Cemetery and the renovation and restoration of a home located in the cemetery that is believed to have been home to Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a major Revolutionary-era figure.

Despite bringing in archeologists, historians and many others to pursue a place on the National Historic Registry, no surefire evidence that Rush lived in the property has been released, much to Howell’s frustration.

“The Cancer center could have been duped,” Howell said.

The Greenwood Cemetery will “absolutely” know whether Rush lived there or not, Joe Hevener, the historic burial ground’s acting superintendent, pledged last night.

He put a similar time line on the completion of re-interring 3,000 burial plots, as part of a major excavation. Just less than half are done now, he said.

The Cancer center has brought 750 jobs to the new location since 2006, with as many as 250 more in the future.

Other business handled: City Controller candidate Al Schmidt and District Attorney challenger Michael Untermeyer, both Republicans running in the Nov. 3 general election, each made appearances. See video of Al Schmidt’s appearance. Democratic D.A. candidate Seth Williams appeared at the Lawncrest Civic Association meeting, declining a request from Northwood, Howell said… The entire civic board was unopposed in renomination for another year term… Northwood Civic will also approach all of its elected officials about applying for community development grant money that Howell says is included in remaining federal stimulus money. “Don’t worry,” Howell said to laughter,” I won’t be handling the $2 million we’ll get.” He said the board would form committees to target money for things like street lights and perhaps buying properties, like one at Castor Avenue and Arrott Street… A string of car vandalism was reported and a new community relations officer was introduced.

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