Board lifts order, fine in split vote

Photo provided A photo from a condemned property at 342 Pence St. provided by Columbus Code Enforcement.

City officials have decided to show leniency toward a property owner following the cleanup of a home that was previously described as being in “deplorable condition.”

The Columbus Board of Works voted on Wednesday to lift a condemnation order for 342 Pence St. and waive a $2,500 fine.

Board member John Pickett was the sole vote against the decision and expressed strong disapproval towards property owner Brad Grayson, stating that this isn’t the first time one of his properties has come before the board.

“The fact that you have evaded, disrespected professional staff, disrespected us and come with confrontation rather than apologetic attitudes towards the properties that you don’t take care of is an embarrassment to this community,” Pickett said.

Prior to its clean-up, code enforcement officer Fred Barnett had described the Pence Street residence as “one of the worse houses I’ve seen in Columbus on the inside,” with “everything from animal feces to garbage,” as well as holes in the roof and floors.

“It’s in deplorable condition. Deplorable. One of the worst I’ve ever seen,” Barnett said in an earlier interview.

City officials said their attention was drawn to the house after receiving a complaint from a neighbor with small children who reported that the home had been vacant for around two years and was attracting mice, rats and snakes to the area.

The board voted in late May to approve a condemnation order and a $7,500 fine for the but later voted to reduce the fine after city attorney Alan Whitted learned that the maximum fine for this kind of situation under city code is $2,500.

At the board’s June 27 meeting, Grayson shared updated photos of the home and a letter from an exterminator in an effort to get the city to withdraw the fine and lift the condemnation order.

However, he wound up arguing with city officials over whether screens had been installed on the home’s windows, which officials said was required in order for the condemnation order to be lifted. Therefore, the board decided to defer their decision to this week’s meeting.

When Grayson returned on Wednesday, his attorney, Elliot Happel, shared pictures of the installed screens.

He also referenced a previous comment by Pickett, who said that an example should be made of Grayson.

“I think that Mr. Grayson has complied with all of the requests of code enforcement and has done everything that he can quickly and effectively to get this house back in the state it should be and to get it up to code,” said Happel. “And I believe that is the example we want to set for our community, as far as the cooperation and quick action that we expect landlords to take in our community when presented with issues that arise relating to tenants who destroy the inside of a home and what a landlord should do when he becomes aware of such issues.”

Barnett confirmed that his inspection showed that the screens meet the minimum housing standards. He recommended that the board lift the order and waive the fine.

“I’m working closer with animal care, so if something like this happens again, we can address it when it happens and not 18 months later,” he added. “Same thing with the police department. … Same thing with the health department and with the fire department, so when something happens, we’re aware of it at the time, and so that’ll help close that gap.”

“I’ll make the motion to lift the condemnation order and waive the fine, and hope that we don’t see you all back here again,” said board member Brenda Sullivan.