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A Look at the State’s Vacant Property Plywood Ban - Akron Legal News

Training is underway in some cities in northeast Ohio as officials and firefighters prepare for the changes related to the state’s new law banning the use of plywood to board up some vacant and abandoned residential properties in foreclosure. The new law took effect in early April and is part of House Bill 463, which revamped the residential foreclosure process, including allowing a mortgagee to file a motion with the court to speed up the procedure on the basis that the property is vacant and abandoned. Irving Sugerman, a partner at Brouse McDowell and law director for several townships and villages, said the law pertains to properties in which the mortgagee has been granted the right to expedite the foreclosure. Under Sec. 2308.02 of the new law “a mortgagee who files a foreclosure action on a residential property may file a motion with the court to proceed in an expedited manner under this section on the basis that the property is vacant and abandoned.” Sec. 2308.031 states, “No person shall use plywood to secure real property that is deemed vacant and abandoned under section 2308.02 of the Revised Code.” Ohio is the first state in the country to enact such a ban. Sugerman said the new rule is intended to help eliminate blight. “The new law replaces plywood with clear polycarbonate, which is the same material used to make airline windows,” said Sugerman. “It is a lot less unsightly than plywood and since it’s clear and easy to see through it may deter squatters and vandalism. It also allows firefighters to see into the building easier to determine if anyone needs to be rescued. “However, there are downsides to the law,” said Sugerman. “It will take our fire personnel longer to get inside the buildings since it is necessary to cut through the material, rather than just using an ax to gain entry. Saving lives can come down to a matter of minutes. And there is an incremental cost to the departments to purchase the circular saw blades required.” Polycarbonate is much more expensive than plywood, which can increase the cost of boarding up a property substantially, said Sugerman. “Since the law only recently took effect, we are not sure how many of these foreclosures there will be so it’s difficult to judge the potential financial burden,” said Sugerman. Akron fire Lt. Sierjie Lash said firefighters have already undergone training on how to quickly gain entry into vacant buildings boarded up with polycarbonate. The training was posted on YouTube in January. “The YouTube training was done with several Akron Fire Department companies or groups assigned to a fire truck,” said Lash. “For anyone that may not have been able to participate in the training, it was recorded and posted. “The new material makes it more difficult for us to get into the structure and it may take a little longer,” said Lash. “The plywood is usually stapled or nailed to the building and we can use prying tools to get it off quickly. “However, to remove the polycarbonate we need additional tools so we are training our firefighters on what they need to do in cases where this material is used.” Lash said while the new material is clear, it doesn’t always provide a full picture as to what is going on inside the structure. “It’s still possible that our view could be obscured by furniture or other items in the home so we would still need to use forcible entry in order to determine if anyone is inside,” Lash said. Over at the Youngstown Fire Department, Battalion Chief John Lightly said he expects to hold a training session in the next month or two on how to gain entry into vacant homes boarded up with polycarbonate. “I am confident we’ll be able to handle things,” said Lightly. “I have already spoken to 75 percent of the companies on my shift about the new material, but I will do a formal training session for the whole department soon. “The main thing will be identifying the properties quickly since we can’t just use an ax on them. Many firefighters are used to grabbing an ax to defeat the plywood. “We will need to be more cognizant that the structure could involve polycarbonate,” he said. “We usually have three to five saws at every fire so we are equipped to break into structures that have this material.” Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally said he doesn’t expect the new law to have a major impact on the city. “We have 2,500 to 3,000 vacant and abandoned properties in the city already that have occurred over the last five to 15 years,” said McNally. “These properties will not be re-boarded as the law is not retroactive. “I don’t expect that there will be that many expedited foreclosures under the new process, so the effect will be minimal.” Last year the mayor said 517 structures were demolished and he expects to take down another 520 this year. “From our perspective, the arguments for using polycarbonate don’t make a lot of sense,” said McNally. “In Youngstown, foreclosures are not the major issue. We are dealing with long-term abandonment of properties. “We can board up a house much cheaper with plywood than possibly paying $1,500 to use the new material,” said McNally. “We already spend about $30,000 per year for the board up work we do. We contract with the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation.” The mayor said he’s also not convinced that using the new material will help officials to spot squatters any quicker. “It’s very easy to spot when the plywood has been popped off, which is a common occurrence in Youngstown,” said McNally.

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