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Homes on the Hill LEAN Program Mentioned In the Columbus Dispatch!

January 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured, Local News

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/01/11/program-educates-tenants-landlords.html

Program educates tenants, landlords

Warwick Ferretti was busy last week fixing up a Hilltop house he owns on Eldon Avenue.

“We’re in a working-class neighborhood here,” said Ferretti, whose ownership group has 22 properties on the West Side, many of them rentals. “They want a nice place for family, kids.”

To that end, he took a pledge to provide safe, dry, clean and decent housing; participate in peaceful mediation to resolve conflicts with tenants; and to not contribute to a culture of drugs, crime or violence.

Seven other rental property owners have done the same through a new program established to encourage landlords to act responsibly and to create a network of landlords and tenants to resolve problems.

The Landlord Engagement Action Network, set up through the nonprofit Homes on the Hill, is the first program in the city that focuses on both tenants and property owners, said Belkis Schoenhals, the program’s manager.

“Our goal is to frost the whole cake, not just half,” she said.

The 2013 Dispatch series “Legacy of Neglect,” which highlighted squalid and sometimes dangerous conditions in rental properties, prompted Schoenhals to create the program. As an executive assistant at Homes on the Hill, she regularly fields calls from tenants who complain about problems with landlords and rental properties.

Ferretti said that because some landlords are new to the business, he hopes the program will lead to better-educated property owners who understand that more than money is at stake.

“A lot of these people take classes, read a book,” he said. “It’s a lot more work than the brochures say.”

Ferretti’s ownership group, Ohio Home Improvement, is spending as much as $30,000 to fix up the 100-year-old Eldon Avenue house, which he plans to sell. The work includes installing a new furnace and wiring, a new roof and kitchen cabinets.

So far, 47 people have attended workshops on the legal rights for both landlords and tenants and one on code and fire safety, Schoenhals said. The program also coordinates bimonthly events for landlords to meet and discuss issues. And it connects landlords and tenants with a Hilltop mediation center.

Schoenhals said 300 property owners have been contacted about the program, including 30 apartment complexes. So far, there’s been no pushback, she said.

Ferretti said he doesn’t expect the worst landlords to join, but attracting property owners who want to improve things is a positive change.

One of those who joined the group is Patrick Gray, the property manager of Havenwood Townhomes, an 820-unit complex just west of Hollywood Casino Columbus.

The complex is slated to be renovated by May 2016. The Romney Group and other investors bought the declining complex for $9 million in April.

“It seemed like something that would be good for the West Side,” Gray said of the landlord engagement program. “We’re personally committed to rebuilding the property we have.”

Last year, the Columbus City Council approved spending $25,000 to get the program off the ground.

Councilman Zachary M. Klein met with Homes on the Hill Executive Director Steve Torsell in recent months and said he is willing to consider additional funding.

“I’ve been pleased with the progress,” Klein said.

Jessica Walterman, a property manager for Community Properties of Ohio, is scheduled to speak at 6 p.m. on Feb. 12 in a program called “Maintaining Peaceful Properties,” along with representatives of Community Mediation Services of Central Ohio. It is at Homes on the Hill, 3659 Soldano Blvd.

Walterman’s company manages 32 properties for Homes on the Hill as well as 2,270 units across the city, including subsidized housing. She said she will talk about how her company deals with landlords who neglect properties and other problems.

Community Properties of Ohio “has a philosophy of tough-love accountability,” she said. “We have lease and house rules. We make that very clear.”

The Landlord Engagement Action Network also plans to hold a legal-rights and responsibilities seminar for the Latino and Bhutanese Nepali communities. “Let’s just foster a community of people who want to improve rental communities,” Schoenhals said.

To learn more, go to www.westsidelean.com.

mferenchik@dispatch.com

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