The city of Rocky River is asking the county to foreclose on the seven-story Westgate Plaza building where the city leases space for the police department.
The request comes after the city learned that the owner is delinquent on this year’s property taxes for the building and owes the county $95,995.
The landlord, Dr. Ross Chiaramonte, a dentist who lives in Canada, did not return phone messages left Monday.
Rocky River Law Director Andy Bemer included the building on a list sent to the Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer for possible foreclosure because of the tax delinquency.
“I see it as incumbent on us to at least bring this to the county auditor and the prosecutor’s office’s attention,” he said.
The city included the 50-year-old building on the county’s foreclosure list so that it can be sold at a sheriff’s sale after learning from an Oct. 2 West Life story about the building’s health and safety violations and delinquent taxes. The Rocky River City School District is the biggest loser because it receives the bulk of its money from property taxes, which in this case total more than $60,000.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said in a statement given Monday to West Life that his office is determining which properties the county may legally foreclose on.
“If those taxes remain unpaid at the end of the process, the properties will be sold at a sheriff's sale,” he said.
Before a property goes into foreclosure, the county attempts to collect the taxes, including setting up a payment plan. But if the county and the property owner cannot reach an agreement, the building will be foreclosed on, Bemer said. This process could take up to 18 months, he said.
One tenant, insurance agent William Sincerney, said he was not surprised to hear about the pending foreclosure.
“Honestly I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.” he said.
Other tenants echoed Sincerney’s sentiments.
The city will make the $2,875 November payment it owes for renting most of the first floor of Westgate Plaza.
City leaders had discussed putting the monthly rent into escrow while Chiaramonte addresses outstanding health and safety violations. The fire department discovered the violations during an inspection Sept. 24 after inquiries from West Life.
City fire prevention officer Robert Crowe ordered Chiaramonte to make repairs after inspecting the seven-story building off Linden Road and issuing eight warnings for health and safety violations. Some have been addressed — one of two elevators and the building’s fire alarm system were fixed, fire extinguishers were inspected and most of the lights in the stairwell are being fixed, said Ray Reich, the city’s building director.
But still pending are fixing the error code on the building’s generator and underground garage sprinkler system, he said.
The building’s elevators had not worked since Sept. 2, Labor Day, when Rocky River firefighters responded to calls midday about a possible fire in the elevator shaft, which ended up being smoke coming from an overheated motor. Rocky River fire officials told building management then that the elevators had to be fixed immediately, which did not happen.
Tenants were angry because their clients with disabilities could not make appointments. Space was made available on the first floor for tenants to meet with clients, but because of the unaddressed problems, they threatened to put rent into escrow.
The city signed a two-year lease with Chairamonte’s company, Bayview Financial Group, LLC., for 3,000 square feet on the first floor for the 44-member police department as the city builds a $10 million police station on the City Hall complex property. The department moved in Aug. 1.
This was not the city’s first run-in with Chiaramonte. In 2017, the city cited him and then took him to court when he failed to address these problems: structural issues that included deteriorating concrete walkways and driveway leading into the garage, and structural issues with the garage’s fire escapes, according to court documents.
Mayor Pamela Bobst urged tenants who believe they’re at risk to contact the city.
“Anyone in any office building that believes there is a violation needs to call the building department,” she said. “We are extremely responsive and want the best for everyone involved.”
Bayview Financial bought the 100,000-square-foot building in January 2012 for $1.15 million.
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