TOLEDO, Ohio — A frustrated Joe Correa stood in front of a former rental property of his Thursday morning on Toledo’s Ferris Avenue.
His money was taken by the city. In 2012, his insurance company deposited $6,000 into Toledo’s fire escrow account. That money was transferred out of the account in November by a city council vote and considered abandoned.
“It's not their money and it looks like it's just going to go to the city, and they can waste it on any project that they want,” Correa said.
Correa's money was moved into the demolition fund, where it can be used to help level more than 200 fire-damaged properties that do not have insurance.
He said he has tried repeatedly over the years to get that money.
He showed WTOL 11 a letter he received from the city in 2012, confirming the $6,000 deposit and telling him steps he needed to take. He then provided an inspection report that listed necessary repairs. He made some of those repairs and then sold the home. Correa said he was told by a city inspector that they could not enter the property to confirm repairs had been made.
“Four years ago I came by and saw that (the current owner) was done with repairs, and I tried to contact the mayor of Toledo. Three phone calls and I never got a return call,” Correa said. “Over the last four years, I sent (the mayor) some letters and never got a response. I hand-delivered a letter thinking that the envelope was lost in the mail, but there was still no response.”
Correa also contacted Toledo City Council and was told someone would get back in touch. That did not happen, he said.
“It's upsetting that the city officials don't do what we voted them in for, to stay in contact and help us out and help the people get the money back. They deserve to have their money back,” Correa said.
WTOL 11 sat down with Dennis Kennedy, the commissioner for the Division of Urban Beautification. He has been responsible for managing the fund since 2011, whittling it down from more than $4 million to its current level of $1.65 million.
Kennedy said he has a team of 12 team members responsible for managing the list and finding those on it who are owed money. The efforts have picked up in recent years.
“We visited every single property on the list back in 2017," Kennedy said. "When we started this, I worked with the assistant clerk of council to go through ownership records and the deposit records, matching up same names and looking for estates and probate. We were trying to find everybody that we could. A warm body, basically.”
But WTOL 11 has been able to track down five people on the list, including Mary Terrell and Correa, whose funds were on the abandoned list and transferred into the demolition fund in November. The amount of money being held to those property owners is more than $56,000.
After WTOL 11 reported on Terrell's story, Kennedy’s team investigated her case, determined a mistake was made and reached out to her to tell her that she will be receiving her money.
Another resident WTOL 11 found, who asked his name not be used, was able to talk to a city official this afternoon and was told he will receive more than $14,000 within a month.
He was told he called with little time to spare. “They said the money was about to be declared abandoned.”
Kennedy suggested that others with claims to funds reach out to Engage Toledo at 419-936-2020. WTOL 11 called that number and, originally, the call-taker did not know about the account. After being put on hold for more than five minutes, she returned and directed us to another department.
When told about this interaction, Kennedy said his team would have a conversation with Engage Toledo to ensure that callers are not bounced to other departments.
The fire escrow account still contains more than 100 properties, but many of those properties are either vacant, have been sold, or an owner has died and there is no clear indication of who has rights to the insurance money.
“I would prefer if we didn’t have any balance in the fire escrow account,” Kennedy said. “I think we either use the money to remove the house or give it back to the owner.”
A full list of properties can be found below: