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Hamilton takes on ‘Foreclosure King’ about nuisance house

Effort is part of city’s work to speed up renovations, demolitions.

A Hamilton board is using one of the city’s newest tools in its fight against nuisance properties — and doing it against a South Carolina man known as “The Foreclosure King.”

The Nuisance Appeals Board took a step toward tearing down the house at 1024 Azel Ave., which was purchased in July by James Odell Barnes Jr., of Gilbert, S.C., who is known by the media and his website as “The Foreclosure King.” He purchases properties nationwide in bulk, hundreds of them a week, usually from banks.

Barnes has 30 days to appeal to Butler County Common Pleas Court.

He purchased the two-story 1920 house with five bedrooms and two full bathrooms on July 15 from Bank of America for $6,000. The same property in August of 2015 sold for $40,000.

The city board last week accepted the July 12 declaration by Health Commissioner Kay Farrar that the Azel Avenue property, located about a block southwest of the intersection of Main Street and Western Avenue, was a public nuisance.

It’s a different world in Hamilton for run-down buildings since the new appeals panel on June 9 issued its first death sentence, that one for the house at 724 S. 9th St. The board — whch includes the city’s police and fire chiefs, the public safety director, the community development director amd three private citizens — has issued others since then, too.

The city is clamping down on negligent property owners. In past practice, family members or friends would sell houses among themselves to avoid demolitions and keep the clock running on orders. The city would declare a nuisance, and properties would quickly switch hands afterward, requiring the city to again declare a nuisance.

Previously, the city relied on the slow-moving court system to have buildings razed. The city earlier this year also approved legislation making it easier to demonstrate property owners — when they can be found — have received proper notice of hearings.

Barnes did not appear at the meeting to argue against the declaration and was unavailable to comment. He owns only one property in Butler County, according to the county auditor’s website.

Barnes calls himself “America’s most experienced and knowledgeable foreclosure expert.”

During the national housing crisis, Barnes bought homes by the hundreds per week across the country, according to a 2008 ABC Nightline story that’s posted on his website, and he resold them.

At the board’s September meeting, the board lifted a public nuisance declaration for 353 Hanover St. because the property had been brought into full compliance.

At that same September hearing, the board accepted the health commissioner’s public-nuisance declarations against three other properties where the owners did not appeal the decisions. The three nuisance properties were 814 Campbell Ave., owned by Patricia A. Countryman, which has had its utilities shut off since July of 2015; 1001 Heaton St., owned by Gregory S. Myers (utilities were off since September 2o15); and 1105 Ross Ave., owned by Randall E. Theiss (utilities off since October 2011).

In other matters:

  • J. Willard Cruz, representing Aristocrat Properties, which owns 641 S. 11th St., did not attend the hearing to update the board on progress toward bringing the property up to code. City sanitarian Cindy Hogg told the panel that Aristocrat had a plumbing inspection on Oct. 10 and is making progress on the property’s rehab plan. An inspector was scheduled to meet with Cruz, who cancelled the meeting. An inspector drove by the property and saw progress on the site, but Cruz did not allow the inspector inside, saying interior work had not been completed, Hogg said. Nearly all work on the exterior has been completed, except for work on the back porch and other minor things. Cruz has committed to bringing the property up to standards by Feb. 19. He recently told a city employee he is trying to sell this property, Hogg told the board. The panel continued its hearing on the matter until its November meeting to give Cruz an opportunity to attend that hearing, at which the panel could order the house razed. Cruz noted he has months to complete the work, and does not plan to attend the November meeting, which he called a waste of time. “I’ll probably be done before the November meeting, but I still don’t plan on going just because I want them to kick it to common pleas (court), because I still disagree with this process,” Cruz said. “Basically, if they declare it a nuisance at this point, it’s more of them what I call flexing their muscle to show that they can kind of make me do something that they want me to do, which I don’t think it will hold up in court.”
  • At 261 Washington St., also owned by Aristocrat, an inspector was allowed inside Oct 12. Some work has been done and other progress toward the plan is in progress. Windows, which are on site but not yet installed, were to have been put in by Oct. 1, the panel was told. A porch still needs to be repaired and painted. Shingles over a porch roof have been installed. A plumbing permit was obtained Oct. 12, about two months behind schedule. Floors, walls and ceilings are being improved, as have outside steps and walkways. Cruz has committed to having the property ready for occupancy by Jan. 1, 2017. Cruz has told a city employee he plans to sell the property, a situation that concerned the board, which does not want it to change hands before it is brought up to standards. Panel members said they expect Cruz to attend its next meeting to provide evidence of continued progress on the property. Cruz told the Journal-News he considers that a waste of time.
  • The board, which in September rejected an appeal by owner J Pacific Ventures of the nuisance declaration of 441 and 445 N. Fifth Street, voted to give the California-based owner a second hearing next month because the owner had only seven days’ notice and was unable to attend the September hearing.

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