A never-ending feud over building code compliance lands a Sedamsville landlord in court

City wants Klosterman properties declared nuisances; owner says buildings were worse off before he bought them

A Sedamsville landlord accused by the city of Cincinnati of exposing tenants to “unsafe and unsanitary living conditions that do not meet the minimum standard of habitability” will now have to defend himself in a court of law.

On Wednesday, the city filed a 51-page lawsuit against John Klosterman, his wife Susan Klosterman, five other people and five companies in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. It says the group has bought about 70 properties — mostly under Klosterman’s control — in the West Side neighborhood where Pete Rose played baseball as a kid. The city regards him as a building code scofflaw.

The defendants “have proven themselves unfit or unwilling to maintain, fund or perform needed improvements and repairs,” the suit says. “The city inspectors have worked with Klosterman for years to get the properties into compliance, often times to no avail. Orders, citations and criminal charges have not deterred Klosterman from acquiring and controlling properties that he is unwilling or unable to maintain, leaving properties vacant and blighted or, in some cases, illegally occupied and blighted.”

In a telephone conversation with CityBeat, Klosterman was as feisty as the city has come to regard him. He denied the city’s claims.

“There’s been nothing that I have done that has diminished the straight-line value of Sedamsville,” he says. “I’m just saving the buildings one at a time. I don’t have the money to buy them and put Hyde Park money into them. I’m stabilizing them the best I can.”

The city says Klosterman owes it more than $582,000 for the following:

• $84,000 in unpaid fines.

• $259,400 in vacant building maintenance license and late fees.

• $6,535 in “lot abatement” costs.

• $20,526 in unpaid water bills.

• $211,956 in barricade and demolition costs, mostly to “stabilize” the landmark Our Lady of Perpetual Help church at 637 Steiner Ave., a distinctive edifice in the Sedamsville skyline.

The church, “has been a historical landmark of the Sedamsville community for decades and, under the control of Klosterman, has deteriorated to an unrecognizable and unsafe state,” the suit says. Built in 1889, the church is owned by the Sedamsville Historical Society, a nonprofit group run by Klosterman. The society acquired the church in 2004. The city condemned it four years later and says its stabilization was financed by the Cincinnati Preservation Association and the city, not at all by Klosterman.

The lawsuit says that the city has filed criminal charges against Klosterman on a number of occasions, leading to fines and jail sentences but only one day locked up. It says it has filed civil actions, too, leading to monetary judgments. Yet Klosterman, it says, remains in arrears in both code compliance and his debts, including an unspecified amount for property taxes.

“Mr. Klosterman and his affiliates own over 70 parcels in Sedamsville, which has given them a monopoly over the properties in this neighborhood,” says the city’s senior assistant solicitor, Erica Faaborg. “Their failure to maintain these properties perpetuates blight in this community and decreases the quality of life of its residents. Their failure to pay tax on their properties diminishes the tax base of not only Sedamsville but also the city and county.”

Klosterman, 67, contends that the city has unfairly singled him out among code violators and that the fines were issued by “kangaroo courts.” He said that none of his buildings are unsafe or unfit for occupancy.

“I’ve paid 500 bucks or a dollar for them, and people have given them to me,” he says. “People want to give me the houses because they don’t want to deal with the city, and I’ve probably taken on more on my plate than I should have because I want to save these buildings here in Sedamsville, so they don’t get torn down.”

Klosterman says he began buying property 35 years ago. He said he suspects the city wants to pressure him into selling his property for purposes of urban redevelopment.

“The city is done buying up the downtown properties and now they want this second band of Cincinnati, which is Sedamsville, eight minutes from downtown,” he says.

The city is asking the court to order Klosterman to pay past-due fines and bills exceeding $582,000. It asks the court to “pierce the corporate veil” and find that the defendant property owners engaged in a conspiracy to violate city building codes. It asks that 11 Sedamsville properties — including the church — be declared public nuisances. And it asks for the appointment of a receiver if the 11 properties are not brought up to code.

Klosterman was the subject of a Jan. 30 story in CityBeat about a lawsuit accusing him of making unwanted sexual advances on a female tenant whose rent was lowered in exchange for cleaning his apartments. Klosterman had earlier sued the woman for allegedly failing to pay rent. The dispute is pending in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

CONTACT JAMES McNAIR at [email protected], 513-914-2736 or @jmacnews on Twitter

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