Earl Starr: Evanston homeowner avoids jail time for building code violations

'I got it done with $3,000'

CINCINNATI -- An Evanston homeowner who faced jail time over his property’s building code violations expects to be released from home incarceration on Friday.

Earl Starr said hours before a Cincinnati building inspector was scheduled to visit his Clarion Avenue home that he was confident his home repairs and improvements would satisfy officials.

“We made tremendous progress,” Starr said. “I got it done with $3,000.”

The bulk of that money came from an anonymous benefactor who donated $2,000 to a GoFundMe campaign that Starr launched to raise the money he needed to fix up his property and stay out of jail.

The first floor kitchen in Starr's property.

WCPO and 9 On Your Side first reported May 17 that Starr was sentenced to home incarceration and was wearing an electronic monitoring device on his ankle after a lengthy dispute with the city of Cincinnati over the condition of his property.

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Hamilton County Municipal Judge Bernie Bouchard placed Starr on the electronic monitoring device in March and gave him 90 days to complete work outlined by the city. If he didn’t get the work finished, Bouchard said he would sentence Starr to 180 days in jail.

By Starr’s calculation, June 21 was his deadline.

He told WCPO that he is scheduled to have the electronic monitoring device removed Monday. Cincinnati city officials confirmed that Starr got the permits that the city required but said there still is work to be done. He still needs approvals on electrical and plumbing work, Edward Cunningham, division manager of the city's Department of Buildings & Inspections Property Maintenance Code Enforcement Division, wrote an email in response to WCPO's questions.

"At the time of inspection yesterday by the plumbing inspector, there was no hot water available," Cunningham wrote. "It will be up to the judge to determine if the progress is sufficient under the case."

Starr said he had been told not to turn on the hot water until he passed inspection.

He acknowledged he still has work to complete before the lower-level unit of his two-family home is ready to rent, but he said he thinks he can get that completed by the end of this month.

His plan when he bought the property was to fix it up so that he could rent out the first-floor unit while he and his 9-year-old son, Zion, lived in the unit that takes up the property’s second and third floors.

Starr has gotten help from a number of people in the community, including a man who stops by to help him with the remodeling and a former employer who gave him stacks of carpet panels to either use in his house or sell.

Carpet panels at Starr's home.

Starr, who works as a barber, used some of that flooring to re-carpet a nearby daycare center and earn some additional money for his own repairs.

One of the last big hurdles for him will be to remove a Jacuzzi tub from the third floor of his property. The tub was there when he bought the place, Starr said, and he thought it would be nice to run plumbing up to it and convert the room into a bathroom.

But city inspectors said that wouldn’t work without hiring an architect to ensure that the floor could support the weight of the large tub filled with water and an adult. Cunningham wrote in his email response that Starr still has not addressed those structural supports.

The Jacuzzi tub at Starr's home.

Starr said he agreed to dismantle the tub and remove it instead. He started to saw it into pieces but said he thinks he needs a different blade for that work.

Meanwhile, he has started getting mailings from real estate firms to gauge his interest in selling the property. Starr said he might consider it.

“They’re saying homes are selling between $60,000 and $225,000,” he said. “When they get to $220,000, they can have this one.”

In the meantime Starr is excited to have his electronic monitoring device removed. That freedom will give them the flexibility to stay for Zion’s whole football practice and even later to go over drills.

But first, he wants to get some extra sleep and enjoy the property he has been working to repair.

“This is my house, and I love it, and no one can have it unless they pay for it -- just like I had to,” he said. “I’m starting to be a little proud of all the work I’ve accomplished.”

Earl Starr and his son, Zion.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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