The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 3, 2013

Owner, city at odds over West End garage

Randy Griffith
rgriffith@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — Ron Spokovich wants people to understand that not all run-down houses are owned by out-of-town scofflaws.

The West End resident says city code enforcement is being persecutorial by requiring him to tear down a brick garage with a caved-in roof.

Spokovich says he was planning to repair the roof, and even has stacks of used plywood and framing lumber for the job under tarps on the D Street property.

“I just need some time to acquire the rest of the material and do the work,” he said. “And I need a chance to save up some money.”

Spokovich has been given more than enough time, city codes officer Samuel Berber said.

The city’s efforts to address the dangerous garage started in 2011, Berber said. It is just the latest in code enforcement issues dating back to 2002 on the property.

Court records show Spokovich was convicted June 11, 2012, by District Judge Michael Musulin on the latest complaint. He appealed to Cambria County court in Ebensburg and was convicted again there March 19 and ordered to come into compliance in 60 days.

His appeal of that conviction was denied July 3 and he was given 30 days to remove the garage or face at least four months in Cambria County Prison.

Spokovich said he was told last year he could repair the roof.

“What they did was say one thing, and when you turned your back they changed their story,” Spokovich fumed.

He insists the garage can be saved.

“The roof needs fixed; that’s a given,” Spokovich said. “Those walls are 8 inches thick. The walls are straight as an arrow. The only thing wrong is the roof.”

Except for one corner, he admitted, explaining he planned to remove that wall and make the garage a little smaller.

But the garage is coming down, he pledged, saying a contractor was expected this weekend.

“They started a persecutorial binge that I couldn’t defeat,” he said.

Spokovich did not make a serious effort to save his garage, Berber said.

Spokovich was offered a chance to show an engineer’s plan for reconstruction by a qualified contractor licensed for the city. He has not done that, Berber said.

What’s left of the roof is not secured to the walls in one corner. The rear corner of the building has structural damage from a large hole under the footer. The damaged wall is located less than 10 feet from an occupied, neighboring home, Berber said.

“It is a dangerous structure,” Berber said. “He’s not certified. We didn’t want anybody just climbing up on that roof and getting hurt.”

Spokovich said he understands his two adjacent D Street houses have some issues. The garage is on a lot with what was originally a double house. Spokovich lived in that house until about 2007, when he moved to his parents’ house next door after his father died. His mother died several years earlier.

All of the utilities were disconnected from the former duplex to save money. Both lawns have grass and weeds up to a foot high. Shrubbery and small sumac trees are overtaking the unoccupied structure. There are two uninspected vehicles in the larger yard.

“It’s looking a little scraggly right now,” Spokovich said. “That’s not a priority. The garage is my priority.”

Both vehicles run, he said, and just need a little work to be inspected. One also needs a current registration.

He says he has a lawn mower that will “go right through this grass,” but hasn’t had time to mow because he’s concentrating on the garage.

He could cut the trees and gather the rubbish, but it would have to be removed.

“A Dumpster costs $300,” he said. “That’s a third of my Social Security. How am I supposed to eat?”

The economy has a lot to do with the condition of his property and others in the city, he said. The former U.S. Steel Corp. machinist lost his job in 1978. After working in New York until 1984, he moved back to Johnstown. He has not worked steadily since then.

“There’s a lot of guys like me who went down and went down hard,” he said. “There is nothing we can do except claw our way back up.”

Nobody in the system was able to suggest opportunities for financial assistance with the cleanup, Spokovich said.

“There is not cooperation. There is no suggestion of help,” he said. “I know I’m up against it. I just need a little help.”