After five years of legislation, the village of Windham has closed the deal on 12 abandoned parcels of land that are now village property tax- free.
The properties were donated to the village by the Portage County Reutilization Corporation, commonly known as the Land Bank, after Village Council approved the deed transfer.
Solicitor Tom Reitz said the village has been working behind the scenes to settle issues with landlords Thomas and William Holmes, referred to by some members of council as "slumlords."
"This action is the culmination of about five years of effort," Reitz said.
The properties are located at 9153, 9156, 9157 and 9158 Maple Grove; 9713 and 9723 Center Road; 9553, 9573, 9561, 9585 and 9601 Community Road; and 8995 Oak Court.
All of the properties were either vacant or contained condemned structures. "Those places (were) in the worst shape ever," Reitz said of some of the parcels.
Windham Zoning Inspector Tom Brett and former Fire Chief Mike Iwanyckyj took more than 1,200 photos of the buildings for the court cases along the way, documenting the conditions of the buildings which were occupied at the time.
The properties were declared condemned and "unoccupied and abandoned," forcing the landlords to declare bankruptcy in 2009.
"We tried to bring them to the table to clean up their places" Reitz said. "So they decided to hand over the debt to their bank, but when the bank saw that the back taxes on them were so high the bank declined to complete the foreclosure, so they were in limbo."
Portage County court records show that a complaint for foreclosure was filed against the landlords in 2011 because of a more than $400,000 debt accrued on the properties. Part of the properties were owned by other landlords and combined into one package for ease of filing,.
The records also show Bayview Loan Servicing purchased all 12 parcels in July 2013 through a sheriff's sale. However, with close to $850,000 in total debt on the properties, the bank opted to transfer the sales to the county through the county treasurer's office and the Land Bank.
Portage County Treasurer Brad Cromes filed to have all debts on the properties removed and transferred to the Village of Windham through the use of a sheriff's deed, which clears all back taxes and gives the new owner a clean slate. Upon signing the deeds, the village officially took ownership of the land, tax-free.
Windham Mayor Debbie Blewitt said officials are unsure of the future use of the properties, which will be added to a growing list of vacant land inside the village.