What is this whole thing about?

If you have recieved a letter from the the Abandoned Homes Project, that means either one of two things: Either you are currently being prosecuted by a local municipality in an Ohio housing court or, based on our research, we believe that you are "highly likely" to be prosecuted within the next 30 to 60 days. Our reseach is based, in part, on patterns that we notice while studying current housing cases, speaking with city officials, researching Google for news and press releases from city officials, speeches and lectures given by housing court judges, and news stories. Being prosecuted by a housing court has serious consequences. You can be fined, arrested, jailed, and/or have your driver's license suspended. This is not a matter you should ignore.

How did you get my information?

Our proprietary software is linked to multiple tiers of public records and is programmed to search municipal court records each night at midnight. Using the information we gather on newly filed housing court cases and violation notices, we then cross-reference that information with county and city records to determine which properties in close proximity to those being targeted for prosecution are also at risk. We also search for nearby properties that are known to be vacant, behind on property taxes, and/or are the subject of foreclosure. Our interns then visit those properties, take photos and notes, and then the information is sent to our partner, Veteran's Delivery Services, who specialises in locating people who have moved and serving them with legal documents.

Why should I care about a house I have not seen in years?

First, you should care because a vacant or abandoned home titled in your name can mean fines, jail, and loss of your driving priveleges. Second, abandoned homes destroy our communities. They increase crime and blight and lower property values. Just as you would not want to live next to a decaying, dangerours abandoned home, neither do the neighbors in the community you left behind. In many cases, steps can be taken to transfer the property to someone who will use it, or we can work with you to donate the property to a non-profit or local landbank. If you have no intentions of using the property again, getting it out of your name is best for everyone involved. Letting it sit there is not an option. Please understand that if you choose not to work with us or hire your own attorney, sooner or later the city will catch up to you. Under the law, the city has the power to send you to jail.

But I don’t own this house anymore so why are you calling me instead of the bank?

The Abandomed Homes Project's ownership records come directly from county records. In fact, the day before you received a letter from us, we double-checked county records to ensure we were targeting the correct person. If you have filed bankruptcy or were foreclosed upon by your bank and believed the property was no longer in your name, we can provide you with records that prove the house is still titled to you. Further, local housing courts use the same property records to determine who should be prosecuted.

Do you work for the City?

Absolutely not. The Abandoned Homes Project works directly with homeowners and, when necessary, provides free attorneys who we support by connecting with them valuable free resources such as appraisals, inspection reports, title reports, and rarely-used defenses to housing court prosecution. Further, we are working to reduce the power granted to cities to jail and/or excessively fine owners of vacant and abandoned homes who meet certain criteria. From circulating petitions to launching public service campaigns to lobbying state officials, we are dedicating significant resources to this fight. Though we may have current or former city officials on our board of directors, they are there for guidance only. You, our client, are we work for you are our number one priority.

How is your program funded?

The Abandoned Homes Project is funded by Parcel Revenue Corporation. Parcel Revenue builds applications that identify, track, and manage the inventory of abandoned and distressed homes within a certain geographic region. The data generated by Parcel Revenue, much of which we gather by speaking with the owners of vacant and abandoned homes, can also be used to predict which properties in a certain area may become vacant before they become vacant. This technology aims to replace the century-old method employed by local governments that react to tax delinquency and blight years after they happen with technology that is predictive. By working with the Abandoned Homes Project, you can make a difference. How? Your caseworker will ask questions to learn why you left your home in the first place and what could have been done to avoid you abandoning your property. We then use this information to build the algorithms and statistical scoring models which drive the software - making it "smarter".

If I want to work with the Project, what happens next?

In the upper right corner of this page, you will see a yellow "START HERE" button. Clicking that button opens our online intake form, which can be filled out in less than five minutes. After you submit your form, our system will open your case and submit the information to your caseworker who will contact you within one business day. If necessary, we will also immediately assign an attorney to your case. From there, you will meet with your caseworker (we can come to your home or schedule you into our office) and we will create a Prosecution Alternative Plan. Once the plan is executed, most of our clients complete the program without ever having to go to court or pay any fines to the city.

That was my mom’s house and she is in a nursing home so why are you talking to me about it?

Let us answer this question by asking you a few questions: If a criminal wants to kidnap, rape, and murder a child in an abandoned home, do you think they care that your loved one left the property sitting empty to go to a nursing home? Or do gangs and drug dealers decide not to use an abandoned home to terrorize the community simply because your loved one is in a nursing home? Allowing the property to sit abandoned - especially where there are free resources available to assist you - is unacceptable and irresponsible. If your neighbor is sent to live in a nursing home or with family and abandones their home, will you be happy? You and your family owe it to the community you once called home to do something about this property. We have attorneys who understand the complex nature of probate court and dealing with nursing homes. In fact, we have one attorney in our referral base, Mr. Melvin Banchek, who has been a probate attorney for over 40 years. We can connect you with attorneys and other valuable resources so that the house does not have to sit abandoned.

That was my mom’s house and she is deceased so why are you talking to me about it?

Did you know that under Ohio law, a property transfers to the heirs of the deceased immediately upon death - even where no deed or probate case has been filed? Ohio Revised Code 2105.06 allows just that. Why? Because years and years ago when Ohio was mostly farm land, and a family needed the farm to survive, the law was made to easily pass the farm to the children, grandchildren, or spouse. Yet, Ohio law has never been changed. If your mother, father, or grandparent owned a home in Ohio and passed away, chances are that you now own that home - and can be held legally responsible for it. Not only can the city legally prosecute you as an "interested party", but if someone is injured or hurt at the property you could also be sued.
This is not a matter you should ignore.

What if I already have my own attorney?

Great! But does your attorney specialize in housing court defense? Does he or she have a proprietary software platform that searches and finds housing court defenses based on 53 primary data points, over 200 secondary data points, and nearly twenty years of data which may be able to predict how your lien holders will react to the property becoming the subject of prosecution? Probably not. While we encourage all of our clients to work with our own attorneys who will represent you free of charge, we are willing to assist outside attorneys with valuable free resources. Simply call us and give us your attorneys name and will work with them to create a comprehensive Prosection Alternative Plan, or PAP. While we will connect your attorney to valuable free resources, if you hire your own attorney and decline assistance from one of our attorneys, you will be responsible for paying your attorney. However, if your case is complex and needs to be litigated, we may, on a case by case basis, agree to pay an outside attorney's (hired by you outside of our program) fees. While this is rare, if you feel you are being unfairly prosecuted, please use this form to submit your case to us.

Why should I work with the Project?

Working with the Project is completely voluntary and we will provide valuable resources free of charge. We will also connect you with other valuable resources that are paid for by us on your behalf. We have the experience and expertise to assist clients who face current or potential housing court prosecution and the vast majority of our clients resolve their cases without ever stepping into a court of law.

Are you a non-profit?

The Abandoned Homes Project is privately funded and does not solicit or accept outside contributions of any kind. We are not a charitable organization, as that term is defined by Ohio law. Therefore, we owe no one and 100% of our efforts can be focused on you, our client. No outside person or enity has any authority to regulate or govern our policies, principles, or beliefs.

Why are you calling me when I lost that house in foreclosure?

The Abandoned Homes Project's ownership records come directly from county records. In fact, the day before you received a letter from us, we double-checked county records to ensure we were targeting the correct person. If you were foreclosed upon by your bank and believed the property was no longer in your name, we can provide you with records that prove the house is still titled to you. Further, local housing courts use the same property records that we use to determine who should be prosecuted. Please do not ignore our letters simply because you believe you lost the house to foreclosure. We are 100% sure you did not and that you are still responsible for the property.

Why are you calling me when I put that house in my bankruptcy?

First, since housing court is a criminal proceeding, filing bankruptcy does not mean the city cannot prosecute you. Bankruptcy deals with the debt owed on the house, but if the title is still in your name after the bankruptcy case is over, you can still be prosecuted. The Abandomed Homes Project's ownership records come directly from county records. In fact, the day before you received a letter from us, we double-checked county records to ensure we were targeting the correct person. If you filed bankrupty and believed the property was no longer in your name, we can provide you with records that prove the house is still titled to you. Further, local housing courts use the same property records that we use to determine who should be prosecuted. Please do not ignore our letters because you believe you surrendered the property in bankruptcy. We can provide you with official county records that prove you still own the property. You can also have your bankruptcy attorney call or email us at [email protected]

Can I really be sent to jail because I own an abandoned home?

Yes, you can. This is the reality that exists under current Ohio law, and we are working to change that for first-time offenders or for people who fall within certain categories. Our website feautures the story of 78-year old James Mader of Cleveland who was jailed for 45 days by Cleveland Housing Court. He had a heart attack while serving his sentence. Anyone who owns a vacant or abandoned home with building or housing code violations could receive the same sentence that Mr. Mader received. Again, this is not a matter that you should ignore.

Should I contact the city directly?

It is your right to do so however we would STRONGLY recommend against it. City employees are not attorneys and its possible that anything you say or reveal could be used against you. Hiring an attorney or applying for assistance through the Abandoned Homes Project and having a free attorney assigned to your case is recommended. When you work with a licensed attorney, you can rest assured that your interests will be faithfully pursued without interference from other obligations or potential conflicts. This is because the rules of professional conduct, which governs the practice of law and sets forth acceptable conduct for attorneys, have enshrined a strong duty owed to clients in the rules. Furthermore, a lawyer even holds duties towards a prospective client. Any person who consults with a lawyer over the possibility of representation is considered to be a prospective client. Duties owed to a prospective client under the Model ABA Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.18 include: Even if the individual decides not to work with the attorney, the attorney must maintain confidentiality, in most circumstances, over anything he or she learned from the prospective client. A lawyer may not represent a prospective client if the prospective client’s interests are adverse to another interest or matter represented or handled by the lawyer. If the firm wishes to handle the matter despite the conflict, the prospective client and the current client must give informed consent, reasonable measures to address the conflict are taken, and if the disqualified lawyer is screen from participating. Furthermore the lawyer is also subject to duties protecting current clients and former clients. Lawyers owe a duty to act with reasonable diligence under Model Rule 1.3. Furthermore, you can rest easy about communications and your role in the process. A lawyer is obligated under the rules to “promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in Rule 1.0(e), is required…” Furthermore, an attorney must keep you reasonably informed about the status of the matter. If you work with an attorney, you can rest assured that your matter will be handled professionally within the framework of a professional code. City employees are NOT subject to codified professional standards of behavior and conduct that a lawyer must satisfy.

What if I have plans to renovate the property?

Generally speaking, it is safe to budget about $50 to $60 per square foot to completely renovate a property. In most urban Ohio neighborhoods, the average home is about 1200 square feet. Unless you can afford at least a $60,000.00 renovation budget, chances are you do not have enough money to completely renovate your property. Further, most real estate investors obtain a "subject-to" appraisal which tells them how much the property will be worth once the renovations are completed. These appraisals are normally around $350.00 for the first unit, and about $250.00 for each additional unit. Lastly, you will want to order a title examination to ensure that once you renovate the property, you will own it free and clear. If this is something you cannot handle, it may be wise to work on transferring a property with serious code violations out of your name as quickly as possible versus attempting to renovate. If you have the resources to complete the project, we will refer you to several contractors and real estate agents with knowledge and expertise in the renovation and/or resale of investment units. It is our experience that hiring a contractor who will properly complete the project is one of the most challenging aspects of investing in real estate - and the riskiest. You will want to insure all contractors are licensed, bonded, registered with the city, and, most importantly, can start and complete a significant portion of the work without receiving any money up front.