Condemned Building in Wheeling Attracting Vagrants

WHEELING — After what neighbors say have been years of problems from a vacant apartment building at 12 Corliss Terrace, the city has taken steps to make its owner fix it up or tear it down.

Wheeling City Code Enforcement Officer Tom Wilson sent a letter Aug. 23 to owner Betty Peralez. He told her that she has 21 days to bring the building up to code or raze it.

Meanwhile, the city has boarded up the property to keep vagrants who have been camping there out of it.

“She must tell us what she plans to do,” said city Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth. “We went up there and barricaded the doors and secured the main entrances. We will bill her for the materials and labor.”

Humway-Warmuth did not have an exact figure for those costs. She said Peralez was advised to post no trespassing signs on the property, which is the last building on the west end of the street. It overlooks the Hampton Inn parking lot.

“With it posted, we can send police up there and cite anyone found illegally on the property,” Humway-Warmuth said.

Robert Hitchman, who operates the nearby Hampton Inn, said he has been battling the fallout from the condemned property for about five years.

“It’s been a terrible situation,” Hitchman said. “When we were remodeling our building, we had some homeless people come and ask if they could have pieces of carpet we were throwing out. They said they needed it because they were sleeping on the floor in that (apartment) building.”

He said he has discussed the problems with city officials, but it’s taking years to remedy.

Humway-Warmuth said getting to the point of condemnation has been “complicated.” E.J. Joseph once own the building but told the city solicitor that he had sold it to Peralez. However, the original deed was lost in a fire. Eventually, through court, the city was able to prove Peralez owns the property.

Wilson inspected the building and said it has several hazards. In his inspection report, he wrote, the “exterior of structure is in severe disrepair so as to pose a threat to public health, safety and welfare.” He did not perform an interior inspection prior to issuing the raze and repair order. Wilson also said the property has trash, high weeds, loose or missing bricks and lintels, a deteriorated roof, missing gutters and downspouts, a failing chimney and broken windows.

Hitchman said someone also had spray painted the building with graffiti, which led to some of his hotel guests asking about their safety.

“I had a lot of guest complaints because of what they and their children were seeing and reading,” he said. “It was painted over eventually but there are broken windows up there and it’s just a mess.”

Hitchman said problems with the vagrants have spilled over onto his property. Some of them have been bothering guests in the parking lot and the outdoor leisure spaces offered to clients of the hotel. Hitchman said there are video cameras in the area that have footage of the people “coming and going.”

“We’ve had all kinds of incidents at the hotel,” he said. “I’ve heard from residents in the neighborhood, that there are people wandering around and there have been thefts. It’s very disturbing.”

One man was found bleeding and gathering discarded cigarette butts on the hotel property. He was eventually arrested at another business in the area.

Humway-Warmuth said she and the city are doing what the can to take care of the problem.

“We are monitoring the building,” she said. “We are clearly holding the property owner responsible.”

Wilson noted the property must undergo an inspection before permits for work or demolition can be issued. That inspection must take place within 21 days of the raze and repair notice issued in the letter. Once the city issues a permit, he said work must be completed within 90 days.

Peralez could not be reached for comment.

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