Community Groups Rally Against Out-of-Town Landlord

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Yvette Howell has rented her Lanterman Avenue house on the city’s south side for more than 20 years with few complaints.

That was until last year. In a year’s time, Howell says her rent has nearly doubled, rising from $500 per month to $900.  Moreover, while she said her house is in “livable” condition, the entity that owns the house or its local property manager has not responded to her calls to make necessary repairs or to remove trees that were cut down in November.

“The only response I got is my rent went up three different times,” she said. “I was told they didn’t have any workers.”

In April 2023, Youngstown Houses LLC purchased 304 housing units from Gary Crim Inc. for $5.6 million, including Howell’s house.  She said the new landlords and the management company it hired – All State Property Management — have all but ignored her requests for necessary repairs. 

“They’ve never been in my house,” she lamented. 

Howell was among approximately 100 demonstrators Wednesday who mobilized in front of Turnberry Apartments at 834 E. Midlothian Blvd., an apartment complex owned by Youngstown Houses and managed by All State.  The event was organized by community groups Youngstown Housing Task Force, Action, and the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.

Demonstrators lined the sidewalks along a parking lot that fronts the apartments, many holding placards with slogans such as “We deserve better in our city,” “Out of town landlord preys on Youngstown,” and “Action! We Want Action!” 

The group also chanted “Youngstown Houses fix your houses!” as they approached the apartment complex. 

The objective of the rally was to put pressure on Youngstown Houses to make needed repairs on the properties it owns in the city or potentially face legal consequences. Organizers boarded two coach busses at YNDC’s offices at 1810 Volney Road and then proceeded to the apartments.

Ian Beniston, executive director of YNDC, said his goal was to meet with the property managers and convince them to sign a community agreement promising to bring the landlord’s housing units up to code. 

He was immediately rebuffed.

Beniston and two others entered the complex after knocking on the door, and then proceeded to the building’s leasing office. The office door, however, was locked and he suspected whoever was inside was not going to answer.  

“Our intent in coming here today was the 304 single family homes they own where we know what the conditions are,” Beniston said.  However, he did encounter tenants in the apartment building who said it was poorly maintained.

Beniston said the community agreement identifies standard steps that any reasonable landlord would adhere to, including code compliance, registering their rental properties and performing regular, routine maintenance.

“That’s what we wanted to discuss,” Beniston said. “They had no interest in talking with us. It seems that their model is this purely predatory extractive one and that’s what we’re going to do our best to stop.”

Approximately 90 of the company’s units are in violation of the city’s housing code and the court has denied the company’s appeals, Beniston said.  

Beniston said he would prefer that Youngstown Houses sell the properties to a responsible party and leave town should it not agree to providing proper upkeep. The city also has legal power through code enforcement, and groups such as YNDC could pursue receivership as a course of action, he said. 

Ohio law allows communities to deem dilapidated properties a nuisance, enabling a receiver to make needed repairs and ultimately gain title to the property, Beniston noted. 

Although YNDC has used this legal mechanism in the past, Beniston said he doesn’t think that’s the next step in the process.

A priority is to identify and communicate with the individual or individuals behind Youngstown Houses LLC, which has been difficult, Beniston acknowledged. “We’re not going to tolerate the operations of their business as it stands right now,” he said.

The tactic was successful in convincing Vision Properties to sell its stake in the local housing market, he said. “You saw a groundswell of cities across the country addressing them. I think we’re in the early stages of something similar.”

He said the entity behind Youngstown Houses also has holdings in Memphis, Tenn., Cleveland, and Evansville, Ind. “Those are the ones we know of,” Beniston added. “You’re seeing similar issues in all these places. With LLCs, you can make it very difficult to determine who that owner associated with or interested parties are,” he says.

Beniston suspects the owner of Youngstown Houses LLC is Richel Francis, although there’s little known about the individual or where he or she lives. 

“We’ll use whatever tactics we can to get that person’s attention to see the seriousness of this,” Beniston said. 

Austin Harrison, who is a member of a grassroots community group in Memphis that is addressing the same problems in that town with the same operator, made the trip to Youngstown to voice his support.

“Some of the same people acting here own hundreds of properties in Memphis,” he said. “We have an active campaign pushing some of the same slumlords.”

He said it’s necessary to demonstrate public outrage and take the fight to bad actors such as Youngstown Houses, Harrison said. 

“They’re raising rents without improving conditions and are treating our shelters as financialized assets,” he said. “They are just trying to make the most money and don’t care about the communities they impact.”

Pictured at top: Ian Beniston holds the community agreement.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.