Holton-Wise, a Flood of Covert LLCs and Out-of-State Investors Have Radically Changed the Local Housing Market. Is There Anything Cleveland Can Do to Fight Back?

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN KERSCHBAUM
Illustration by John Kerschbaum

Last summer, in the midst of his mayoral campaign, Justin Bibb walked up the front stairs of a dilapidated house in Detroit Shoreway to a podium. Behind him stood Jay Westbrook and Bob Render, two housing policy advocates, and a party of volunteers in white shirts reading “BIBB!” Nearby there were two other shirts, one emblazoned “SLUMLORD” and the other stamped “I ♥ EVICTIONS.”

“We are here today on the footsteps of 7911 Eve Ave., one of the homes managed by Holton-Wise Property Group,” Bibb said. “Holton-Wise has used redlining maps to help investors continue to exploit these communities. It is frustrating, and it sickens me to the core. For years, Holton-Wise has run rampant in our city, buying up properties from Glenville to Cudell. And nothing, not a darn thing, has been done to stop them.”

click to enlarge Bibb promising to "evict" Holton-Wise - PHOTO BY SAM ALLARD
Photo by Sam Allard
Bibb promising to "evict" Holton-Wise

With a handful of cheers from supporters, Bibb ended his speech with a warning call to bad actors. “I stand with residents to say that it’s time to evict Holton-Wise from our city,” he said. “As the next mayor, under my watch, I’m going to fight back against real estate buildings who operated with impunity for far too long.” That, he said, would include holding property managers accountable on “day one,” partnering with HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge on Fair Housing Law enforcement, going after those who don’t register their rental units, and working with city council to pass pay-to-stay legislation.

Less than 48 hours later, James Wise, the co-founder of Holton-Wise, had already made a video response to Bibb on the company’s YouTube channel. He labeled Bibb a “socialist asshole,” and framed the candidate’s support of Issue 24—which gave civilians more oversight of police —as an “anti-cop, pro-crime, -socialist, -communist agenda.”

Holton-Wise had only owned 7911 Eve for 45 days, he said; it’s not the party to blame for its deterioration. “We’ve done millions and millions of dollars of home renovations, in and around Cleveland neighborhood[s],” Wise said. “But this man says we are the ones destroying the neighborhood. How is that so? We’re out there … actually fixing 111-year homes.”

His response went on.

"Is it just my language that offends you, bro?" Wise asked. "Is it just because I don't show up to work in a fancy suit every day? Because I don't wear a tie every day? Hell, I don't even wear a shirt every day when I'm at work. Is it because I don't have your pedigree ... because I grew up in Old Brooklyn and went to Tri-C and stopped after a two-year degree, and I just happen to work fucking hard for my money? Is that what bothers you about me?"

The question of whether it’s simply the offensive language and brash behavior of Holton-Wise that has rankled some Clevelanders, or whether Holton-Wise has earned a reputation of exploiting underserved communities and deteriorating neighborhoods is one that those involved in the local real estate and rental market have asked themselves and others for a while now. Bibb’s campaign move just put the question into the public sphere.

***

After renting a home in Tremont for the past decade, Anna Rose and her husband Chris Sethman felt it was high time to buy a house. Rose, a population health specialist who grew up in Old Brooklyn, was leaning toward moving back to her childhood neighborhood.

By the time they started looking, in January of 2021, Rose and Sethman, both in their thirties, were overcome with usual first-time buyer anxiety. Both anticipated rising costs given recent trends, but neither thought the playbook of yesteryear—pre-approval, home tours, etc.—would be replaced by a rat race: Offers to skip inspections. Fifteen-minute showings. $195,000 homes going for $230,000. Shady incentives like Peloton subscriptions. Rose discovered, as many have during the last year, that buyers who got the homes were paying the same day, with cash.

“It’s like throwing meat to hungry dogs,” Rose said. “It was crazy, it was really stressful. Seven or eight offers down the road, you think, ‘Is this how it’s going to be?’”

What Rose and Sethman experienced seems to be the norm in today’s seller’s market, where single and multi-family properties are sold on cash, no-contingency offers, often to buyers who haven’t even stepped foot inside them. There are lingering similarities to the foreclosure crisis of the late aughts that have stirred up concern among Cleveland’s housing intelligentsia.

And most of that talk, whether overheard at a Zoom conference or the boardroom of a community development corporation, often touches on the following: that a growing percentage of those cash buyers of Cleveland homes are limited liability companies or housing investors with out-of-state Zip codes, mostly from California and New York. Rather than big banks on Wall Street, local housing experts say, it’s a 50-year-old empty nester in Las Vegas starting her portfolio with a $60,000, two-family home, then, if things go well, making a sizable profit from three years of rental income. Recent data from the ClevelandDepartment of Building & Housing shows that, in 2020, these investors—local and out-of-state—accounted for a little more than 21 percent of purchases in Cuyahoga County. And on the east side of Cleveland, more than one out of three purchases last year were made by a business.

“Back in 2008, 2012, even later, so many of those transactions were vacant property,” Frank Ford, senior policy adviser at the Western Reserve Land Conservancy who has been studying the effects of these investors for the past decade, said. Today, “there are fewer vacant and abandoned properties. But the general business model is still the same: buy properties, put in as little as I can, and hope that I don’t get caught by housing inspectors.”

A grandfatherly figure in the Cleveland housing specialist world, Ford is, like many others in his circle of influence, constantly wrestling with the question: To what extent is having a huge chunk of Cleveland homes owned by gung-ho investors in California, France or Israel good for our city? And to what extent is it bad? From 2008 to 2013, when Cleveland had 16,000 vacant homes, Ford and six other academics investigated this phenomenon, analyzing transactions among over 200 investors. What Ford found alarmed him: homes sold sight unseen (often on eBay) to click-happy buyers outside Ohio were more likely to lead to some sort of structural decay than those purchased by a public entity.

“The problem of properties being flipped with little or no improvements, leaving them in a continual distressed state, is not limited to out-of-state investors,” Ford wrote. Although, “we did find that non-beneficial outcomes were more frequent with out-of-state investors.”

Now, Cleveland might have 56% fewer vacants and Deutsche Bank only owns 13 homes, not 600. But today’s market has attracted wealthy investors with $70,000 or $90,000 or loads more in cash who—through brokerages or their own LLC—can buy single-family or multi-unit homes to test out a landlord lifestyle. The biggest problem, as far as the brains at Building & Housing are concerned, is that no one knows for sure how many LLCs there actually are. And for those that are in city records, their titles are purposefully vague, either lazily named after their street name or a series of randomized characters: “Memphis4 LLC,” “XYZ LLC,” “XYZ2 LLC.”

Zach Germaniuk, co-chair of the investor working group at the Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council (VAPAC), said that one of the reasons for such covert behavior is to purposefully skirt around outdated housing code (specifically Chapter 365) that does not mention “limited liability company” directly. As for identifying them, “it’s incredibly labor intensive,” Germaniuk said. “You’d have to do a thousand due diligence investigations. Unraveling just one company’s true location could take over an hour. A billable hour!”

Timothy Kobie, a business process analyst at Building & Housing, said that although not all LLC or business buyers are inherently bad—most are good, he says—this changes when code violations are brought to light, when concave roofs need to be redone or HVAC replaced. Subpoenaing an Angeleno investor with a bungalow 2,300 miles away in Old Brooklyn to housing court on Lakeside Avenue, he said, is emblematic of the key frustration. Even more difficult when, as his data suggests, only around one out of five LLCs are even registering their rentals.

“What they tell us at the city is, ‘All I do is receive the mail.’ And that gets them away with any type of responsibility to repair the property,” Kobie said at the 32nd Ohio Fair Lending and Vital Communities Conference in November. “And it gets lost in transaction—‘This is more than I signed up for!’” He explained: “The worst type of properties end up cycling to the least prepared investor.”

They “cause holes in our communities.” Well-funded LLCs can easily outbid people like Rose. They don’t flinch at “market conditions.”

“The We Buy Your House For Cash folks are being very aggressive at grappling homes” before being listed, Sally Martin, the director of South Euclid’s housing department, said. (Martin, since the interview for this piece, has taken a job as the city of Cleveland's new director of building and housing in the Bibb administration. She'll begin the first week of February.)

“Business buyers are well-funded, they’re just going to keep coming in,” added Jason Powers, director of the Middle Neighborhood Initiative.

Echoing Kobie’s sentiment, Powers questions the overall, lasting impact on the neighborhoods they are buying in. “What long term values are (associated) with these business buyers?” he asked. “What is their ceiling?”

Others see a more complex situation.

“So the narrative is kind of like, well, ‘Geez, Holton-Wise and these bulk buyers are bad—if we could just stop them, everything would be okay,’” Michael McBride, real estate development adviser at Burten, Bell, Carr and former manager at the Department of Building & Housing told Scene. “And I don’t think so. Probably if we just ‘stop’ them, there’d be more houses to tear down.”


***

“Nobody loves what we’re doing today,” says James Wise, the then 31-year-old co-founder of the Holton-Wise Property Group, in an April 2018 video on the company’s YouTube channel. In front of him, outside in the Cleveland cold, is partner John Holton and his crew, clad with logoed hoodies. Wise is filming a tenant on the east side of Cleveland getting evicted.

Observing the crew lug tables and mattresses out on the lawn, Wise squawks to his apparent enemies: “I’m expecting some type of hate from the liberal fucks out there, like, ‘What the hell, Holton-Wise! You guys are horrible! How could you throw a family out? It’s snowing, blah blah blah.” The tenant, Wise tells us, stopped paying rent in October. The owner, an engineer in North Carolina, contacted Holton-Wise in December. Wise took over the property in January. An eviction notice was filed in February. Locks were changed. Doors were barricaded. A type of Jackass-like anticipation overwhelms the video, as Wise’s fury peaks: the eviction, for him, appears both a thrill and a source of personal justice.

“He’s not a multimillionaire,” Wise explains, referring to the landlord. “He’s just a regular joe, like you, like anybody else out there.” The tenant has given a writ of restitution—a notice to vacate—twelve days ago. He adds, “And they chose to steal from this man.”

The YouTube video in question, featured in the “Tenants From Hell” series, is one of Wise’s channel’s most popular (with 1,265,607 views as of January), and one that’s come to represent his brand of real estate management, one that is part wrestling heel and part vlogger bro. While a vast majority of bulk-home buyers and property managers tend to keep out of the public eye, Wise, with his profanity-laden newsletters, controversial merchandise (“RENT’S DUE,” reads a popular sweater) and ranty industry tell-alls, has done the exact opposite. And it’s earned a bad reputation among serious housing wonks and suit-wearing realtors.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SAM ALLARD
Photo by Sam Allard
“There are some LLCs that hold quite a few properties, but they’re not as visible as Holton-Wise,” Robert Fischer, the co-director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, said. “He likes being a lighting rod. He’s embraced it for sure.”

But why Holton-Wise matters in the scope of the industry isn’t due, experts say, to his politics or thoughts on “socialists.” According to data obtained from Case Western Reserve University in October, Holton-Wise either managed, brokered or owned at least 172 registered properties (with 374 units) in the city of Cleveland. (Its website says that “Holton-Wise manages a portfolio valued above $65 Million consisting of over 1,000 individual rental units.”) Out of these 172, about 100—more than half—are owned by investors based outside of Ohio, with a majority in California, New York, Colorado and Arizona.

(Wise declined a request to be interviewed for this story. “If your readers have an actual interest in learning about this topic,” Wise wrote in an email, “and not just more of typical progressive propaganda …, they should tune into HoltonWiseTV.”)

Before Wise became the loud-mouthed, filterless guide for the newbie investor stock, he was a bespectacled student at Parma High School. At 18, unsure of any career prospects, he took a job as a gas station attendant. In 2007, he dropped out of Cuyahoga Community College to manage a Radio Shack, and later worked for an invisible fence company. In 2008, in the midst of the largest real estate crash in American history, Wise opted to take up investing. His mother urged him to buy a home. With two housing credits—$8,000 from Obama and $8,000 from Parma—and $2,550 down, Wise bought his first property, which he’d rent out to his brother-in-law. “I always wanted to be a landlord,” he told the podcast Land Academy. “You buy a house using someone else’s money, and then somebody else pays off your loan. As soon as I heard that I’m, like, sold.”

In October of 2013, after hiring Holton to do repairs on a duplex he had bought, the two formed a real estate company. Wise had just been licensed after graduating from Hondros College in Independence. In 2015, Holton-Wise became a brokerage firm. He hired 25 agents to work out of office space on Brookpark Road and managed roughly 300 units. It’s then Wise seemed to formulate Holton-Wise’s mission focus of being “geared to the investor.”

“Our typical client is going to be out-of-state,” he said in 2015. “I’m talking high net-worth people, mostly from a wealthy Zip code: ‘Wow! That’s pretty cheap! I couldn’t even get a parking lot for that over here.’ That’s what we do.” When Hondros interviewed their alum in February of the following year, Wise appeared to gloat about his speedy progress. “I’m 28 years old, and a broker/owner of the largest real estate brokerage on the west side of Cleveland,” he said. “I would say that’s a pretty great accomplishment.”

By 2018, Wise was known to claim himself, as multiple online profiles declare, “the number one realtor in the world when it comes to selling multifamily and commercial property in Cuyahoga County.” While acting or not, Wise portrayed himself on HoltonWiseTV as a no-b.s. leader devoid of any emotionality or empathy for the struggling tenant. The result is, whether in his “Tenants From Hell '' segment or “Ask James Wise” segment, a visual parade of what Wise perceives to be humanity’s worst –defiled toilet seats, hoarder-devastated kitchens, abandoned dead cats melted into the basement floor. It’s all there, replete with bikini-clad assistants and John Cena tropes in Holton-Wise’s studio space.

“With anything in this business, I want to show you the true realities of it,” Wise said in “Real Estate Agent Selling his Sex Motel for $1 Million.” He and Holton had caught flak about owning the Oak Park Motel on Pearl Road—it had apparently been a prostitution den before they acquired it—and created a YouTube rebuttal-slash-ad to sell the property and clear their name. Cars, Wise said, had burned in the parking lot. Drug users had passed out on the stairwell. But yet, Wise said, Oak Park could be reconditioned as “affordable housing.” He reminded interested investors of Holton-Wise’s ongoing policy: no loans, cash only. “It’s got to be one million dollars in a bank account with your name on it,” Wise said. “Not a hard money loan. Not a private loan. It’s got to be money in your bank account or I don’t want to talk to you.”

Wise’s give-no-fucks attitude, it seems, led quickly to a polarized split as his channel and company grew. In some 331 business reviews on Google, high-star ratings come from home resellers or sated investors in California or Nevada and the others come from Cleveland tenants.

“I have been working with James and his team for a year. I have had a great experience buying and managing properties,” wrote Oren Root, an investor from San Francisco. “The process is very streamlined and easy to follow. Personally I think the YouTube videos are a nice touch.”

“Worst living/maintenance/landlord situation I have been involved with in 15 years,” wrote Brian M. “I find it fitting that they are on YouTube giving advice, but can't manage a small group of rental properties in Cleveland.”

“Everything is through a damn voicemail and texts,” wrote Amara Gooch in a now deleted post. “And no one get back to you.”

When contacted by Scene, Gooch, a stay-at-home mom who rented a Holton-Wise property for two years, said that she was at first taken aback by the lack of preparatory maintenance. “When I first moved in, none of the appliances were working,” she said. “Freezer didn’t work, the stove didn’t work, there were oil stains on the walls.” Only months of constant text communication, Gooch said, seemed to jolt her property manager into speedier replies and repairs. Then, she said, “they were a little more organized.”

In 2016, Wise posted on the real estate investor hub BiggerPockets, glorifying his knowledge of investing in Cleveland. In his “Ultimate Guide to Grading Cleveland Neighborhoods,” Wise touted the city’s low-cost, high-rental market. Every neighborhood got a letter grade tied to the home’s worth in a purely capitalistic lens. “A” homes, $150,000 and up, were “too expensive to make any sense for a rental.” “B” homes included “some blue collar & some college educated.” “C”’s had “rents capped at $1,000.” “D”’s was where crime was “a lot more common.” And “F”’s, homes located in the Black-majority east inner ring, were in a “warzone,” the “Wild West” where “empty houses get stripped of all valuables & sell for almost nothing.”

The reaction was abrupt. Fair housing advocates claimed Wise’s map was clear “redlining,” a practice outlawed by the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Local realtors freaked; many could not believe that, as one told me, Wise could be so “horrible.” David Sharkey, a realtor with Progressive Urban Real Estate, told me he felt “outraged” when a colleague showed him the map. “I was, like, flipping out. It goes against everything a realtor is supposed to stand for,” he said. As far as being a clear imitation of the outlawed map from the thirties, Sharkey was unsure. “There are a lot of things (in real estate) that suggest that you should do this, you shouldn’t do that. But actually pinning it down to, like, is this illegal? I think that’s actually questionable, unfortunately.”

In Wise’s view, it was merely a cheat sheet for his future clientele, specifically those unaware of where to start investing. “This is an educational document created based solely upon risk factors determined by income, criminal activity, and property damage,” he told Bloomberg in 2018. It was not racist, he added, but a way, maybe the way to prop up the portfolios for “monetary gain.” “These are people who are simply looking to obtain a return on investment,” Wise went on. “I have no comment on the racial make-up of these neighborhoods.”
To many, Wise’s online behavior has only gotten worse.

On August 27, 2020, Wise posted a video on HoltonWiseTV for a listing in Glenville. Around him in the studio are cutouts of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as he introduces a dim-lit two-story in this “F-class neighborhood” for a selling price of $14,900. There could be a feral cat running amok, he warned, or random visits from the past owner’s uncle. He mentions his grading scale, recommends investors take in Section 8 tenants for a profit. (“Where,” he says in a newsletter, “I make most of my money.”) Though it’s “dangerous” to view the property, Wise will show it to you with a cash offer. The video’s title is “Investing in the Ghetto.”

***

click to enlarge Jayme Lucas-Bauer - PHOTO BY MARK OPREA
Photo by Mark Oprea
Jayme Lucas-Bauer

Four miles south of where Bibb promised to “evict” Holton-Wise is Old Brooklyn, which is both the old neighborhood home to James Wise himself and one of his largest areas of investment. For 10 years, it was the home of Jayme Lucas-Bauer. Today, she’s the neighborhood development project manager for Old Brooklyn’s CDC, and spends the bulk of her time hunting down vacant properties to rehab. When discussing perceived injustices in the housing market, Lucas-Bauer speaks in a machine gun fury verging on social activist parlance. “I don’t have a problem with landlords,” she said. “I have a problem with irresponsible landlords.”

For as long as Lucas-Bauer’s been active, she’s attempted to paint herself as a rogue LLC’s worst nightmare. On October 21, 2020, she gave a talk at the Ohio Fair Lending Coaltion’s Brown Bag Forum calling real estate management and brokerages the “most aggressive players” in Cleveland’s inner west side market. She generally criticized bulk buyers—firms that buy homes in bulk—for being “hard to track down” or appealing to “incompetent investors,” but singled out Holton-Wise specifically as persona non grata. In 2020, she found, there were 177 properties with its name associated in some way in Old Brooklyn, a 53-percent jump from 2019. Thirty-five of these had housing or health violations. Fifty of these were turned in for lack of rental registration. (In October, Lucas-Bauer counted 206 properties in Old Brooklyn in the Holton-Wise umbrella. In contrast, according to records from October, there was only one registered Holton-Wise property on the inner east side, three if you include Slavic Village.)

Starting in 2015, Lucas-Bauer noticed a change in how quickly homes were being transferred between LLC buyers. Those that previously had two or three decades of ownership were now being flipped and sold often in the same year. It used to be, you could buy that house on Muriel from a family whose mom and dad just died for $60,000, $70,000—and be structurally solid,” Lucas-Bauer said. “You just need to fix up the kitchen while you’re living there and replace the flooring. But structurally, it was fine. And now those houses are completely removed from the market. They are just sucked up immediately the day that they’re listed.”

To demonstrate her grievances, Lucas-Bauer took me on a tour of several streets close to the main thoroughfare in Old Brooklyn. On foot, we set off west on Stanford, passing 80 to 100-year-old homes in various conditions. “That one used to go for $80,000,” Lucas-Bauer said of one on Stanford. “Now, it’s $125,000.” On Memphis Avenue, Lucas-Bauer pointed out various rentals that are either associated with Holton-Wise or with another LLC of some sort. The complaints overwhelm her: This one’s stairs are caving in, this one needs a paint job. We stop at one on Memphis, which has a Holton-Wise sign pasted next to the door: It’s sold, awaiting a tenant. For a moment, Lucas-Bauer seems baffled that it’s occupied. “He’s talking the right talk,” she said. “We’ll see what he can change, though.”

***

It was a year or so before the pandemic when Oren Root and his wife Anatasia bought their first investment home. Root himself was in his early forties and, as a tech worker living in costly San Francisco, felt pressed to start building an outside revenue stream. In 2018, a fixer-upper in New Jersey caught their eye. It was $60,000, and Root had only toured it via Google Street View. But a three-year investment, Root thought, would inch him closer to a safe retirement. (“Are you ready to retire and live off your rentals?” reads another one of Wise’s newsletters.)

“You’ve never done this before, it looks very scary,” Root said in a phone interview. “We came into this pretty late, started from nothing. I feel like compared to a lot of investors we’re looking at? Baby steps.”

In 2020, Anastasia was browsing BiggerPockets when she came across a post by Wise. It led the two to his YouTube channel, then eventually to a listing in early 2020 for $78,000. He showed Wise his proof-of-funds and months later had his name on the Cleveland rental registry. Yet, because the home lacked a suitable kitchen and baths, Root said he chose to put $15,000 into improvements. Because he’s 2,300 miles away, Root hired Wise. “If I were living there, I’d get a general contractor, make this a nice little project, and do it myself,” Root said. “But the option of doing this remotely—it’s easier to do that when you have someone to do property maintenance.”

Like most, if not all, of the 100 out-of-state owners of Holton-Wise properties in the rental registry, Root opted to have his rental managed by Wise’s firm. Although it’s unclear how many properties in Cleveland Wise’s team manages, it’s likely the number is in the couple hundreds. But what is clear, at least according to Cleveland housing code, is that the owners are, at the end of the day, the ones responsible if the property is in Cleveland. As Timothy Kobie at Building & Housing said: If I’m an owner of a home, and my lawn or roof isn’t up to code? Then, I’m the one held responsible for those repairs, even if I’m based overseas in England or Israel.

“You have to get a person in court,” said Sally Martin. “You have to perfect service. If you don’t, you don’t have a case.”

As the head of the city of South Euclid’s housing department for the past 13 years, Martin, in the spirit of Lucas-Bauer in Old Brooklyn, has watched her town change due to bulk buyers of homes. “My job, in its essence,” she said, “is to maintain the value of the housing stock.”

By 2017, five years after the end of the housing crisis, 30 percent of South Euclid homes were now rentals, with just over half of those properties owned by someone outside Ohio. Homeowners on Liberty or Verona Roads who used to take pride in routine upkeep—plant flowers, keep the lawn cut—were replaced by transients. “The further they are from the property,” Stephen Karr, South Euclid’s housing coordinator, said, “the less they’re involved, the less they see, or maintain the property.”

click to enlarge Sally Martin - PHOTO BY MARK OPREA
Photo by Mark Oprea
Sally Martin

Five of these were brokered to investors by Holton-Wise. In March 2018, a property being managed by Wise was late to pay a combined $300 registration and late fee, which Martin said the city is “serious about enforcing.” But because this is South Euclid, the subpoena to housing court was not mailed to the owner’s home out-of-state. It was mailed to Holton-Wise. Unlike Cleveland, South Euclid—along with a spate of other Northeast Ohio suburbs—has what’s called a Local Agents in Charge clause in its housing code. This means that, according to Martin, if an investor-owner is out-of-state, then he or she must have a local representative nearby and ready to be held accountable for any code violations. “So if you don’t pay your rental registration, you’ll get pulled into court,” Martin said. “Or we’ll post your house with a placard that notifies your tenant that, ‘This is out of compliance.’”

According to both Martin and Karr, the agents clause has proven effective. Currently, Karr said, Holton-Wise has just two properties in South Euclid, one which is under local ownership. “Once they see that they can be held responsible for things,” Karr added, “they learn.”

***

Five months after scouting for a home for her and her husband, Anna Rose gave up on Old Brooklyn. She and Sethman had made seven offers on sixteen houses, and had watched as several went for $6,000 or $12,000 over asking. The process reached its emotional zenith when Rose had her heart broken on a brick bungalow in South Hills: “You walk in, you have 15 minutes, you can’t fall in love,” Rose said. “It was one of the houses that I walked in and just felt like home.” Days later it was sold to a cash buyer. In January, their agent at Howard Hanna found a Tudor style in Kamm’s Corners, and Rose and Sethman jumped on the offer. They won. “It was still $12,000 over asking.”

A month into Bibb’s time as mayor, it’s unclear what his plan of action is for bad actors in Cleveland’s housing market. (Members of his transition team didn’t respond to requests for an interview for this story after the November election, and members of his administration haven’t responded to requests for comment for this story since he took office.)

Going off his July speech lambasting Holton-Wise, it’s possible Bibb could follow through with a number of tactics he espoused. He could help promote Pay To Stay legislation—recently adopted in Cleveland Heights and Lakewood—that would extend an eviction notice past the three-day standard. He could implement a necessary Point of Sale inspection. Like in South Euclid, he could work to amend Cleveland’s rental registration ordinance to ensure local agents are held accountable for out-of-state negligence. And, as far as accusations of “redlining” go, it’s possible that Bibb’s administration could indeed pursue civil rights violation under the Fair Housing Act, specifically under the Act’s section 109, which prohibits “making, printing and publishing of advertisements that indicate a preference, limitation or discrimination because” of race or color.

The coalition of wonks over at VAPAC believe that the Bibb administration could implement a series of changes to at least soften the blow felt from bad actors and irresponsible investors. Germaniuk himself recommends updating Cleveland housing ordinances to include clear language on who’s responsible for dealing with code violations, regardless of company structure. It’s all a part of a white paper Germaniuk, Ford and others will be publishing this spring. And with Martin appointed the new Director of Building & Housing, it’s possible that her assertiveness in South Euclid could very well be transported to Cleveland.

“What we’re attempting to really go after is a subset of investors, owners and managers who are abusing the corporate form,” Germaniuk said. “There are plenty of business people out there that are just operating rental property, and are operating within the law. And frankly? We need that investment.”

As to why Holton-Wise has only two registered rental properties in Slavic Village? Germaniuk laughed. “Well, according to their statements,” he said, “our neighborhood’s a warzone.”
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