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Wayne Post Office and Stewart Estates

The following is an explanation of the status of the building in downtown Wayne currently being rented by the U.S. Post Office. 

The Post Office occupies a building that is in an estate being administered in the Wood County Probate Court titled as the Joan C. Stewart estate.  Mrs. Stewart was married to Beryl W. Stewart and they tragically died very close in time.  I have been appointed by the Court to administer both estates.  Mrs. Stewart owned the buildings and the estate obtained her property in the condition and state of repair that existed at the time of her death.

The condition of the property at Mrs. Stewart’s passing was poor.  The building was erected over 100 years ago and had significant issues simply due to age.  To make matters worse, in 1995 or so, a fire occurred that impacted the space above and adjacent to the property.  As a result, the building suffered significant damage, including smoke and water damage.  The water from the fire flooded the basement of the Post Office and was such that the mortar and bricks were damaged. 

The damage to the adjacent spaces was of such magnitude that the Stewarts determined they were not salvageable.  One of the most severely damaged buildings was demolished.  Apparently, financial realities made the Stewarts determine that remediating the other buildings was not a viable option.  So, the other buildings were closed and left as they were. 

The Post Office shares a ceiling, adjacent wall and basement with the units damaged by the fire and left as they were.  It appears the unit occupied by the Post Office sustained less damage, was remodeled after the fire and made suitable for the Post Office.  However, an appraiser advised recently that without a current renter the property would have little or no value due to the condition of the property and maintenance expenses.  

At the end of July, the Post Office advised that there was a problem with the air quality in the building.  Apparently, the Post Office perceived the air quality to be a sufficient threat to employees and patrons that they vacated the premises.  Since then, my office has been working with the representatives of the Post Office, investigators and contractors to make the property safe for the occupancy. 

Initially, it was suspected that sewer gas was responsible for the problem.  We investigated and found that the drains from the adjacent unoccupied buildings may be causing the problem and that was corrected.  The maintenance office for Wayne advised that sewer gas may have been occurring outside the building causing aromas inside the Post Office due to the drought at that time of the year.  That issue was addressed as well.  At the same time, the Health Department advised that sewer gas can be mistaken for natural gas.  Columbia Gas was immediately contacted and found and repaired a leak.  Soon afterwards, we were told by Cousino-Harris Disaster Relief that the problem was more than likely black mold and that repairs would be cost prohibitive. 

In an effort to keep the Post Office in operation in town I then proposed other options to the Post Master.  Another building owned by the estate and not impacted by the fire was offered to the Post Master.  The Post Master advised that she would have to take the offer up with her superiors but that it may be acceptable.  In anticipation that the Post Office may accept that building, I then engaged the preparation and cleaning out of that building.  Material was removed from that building filling a thirty yard dumpster of in anticipation.  In the meantime, we also researched the possibility of renting a trailer as an option for a temporary solution.  Thankfully, further developments meant we did not have to follow up with those options.

While that was occurring, the Post Master advised via a phone conversation that the inspection of the Post Office by inspectors employed by the Post Office found no black mold.  That meant that it may be feasible to repair and have the Post Office reoccupy the building.  Rather than wait on written verification, we then engaged in efforts to address the issues anticipated in that inspection.  That included removing the junk behind the Post Office and in the adjacent buildings.  Much of that work has been done and is expected to be fully completed by September 16.

We recently received the inspection from the Post Office verifying and describing the items needed to make the unit safe for occupation.  Now that we have received this documentation we are working with various trades to address the other items and hope to have them engaged soon.  I hope to have an estimate for that work soon and will make a determination if it is economically viable to make the repairs using other estate assets.

Rest assured, we are working on this matter every day as we have been since we were made aware of the problem.  Our goal is to leave Wayne better than it was at the time of the death of the Stewarts while meeting the fiduciary duty to the estates. 

Had I no fiduciary duty I would like nothing more than to remediate all of the properties.  But, my fiduciary duty requires that I consider an “abandonment” of the property under Ohio law and basically walk away from bad return on investments.  However, I do not want to pursue that option because I believe maintaining rentable properties is a good return on investment. 

The estate is taking an extraordinary amount of time to administer due to multiple factors.  Foremost of these is that tragically, Beryl and Joan died within days of each other.  Beryl had been serving the residents of Wayne for over fifty years as a lawyer.  While, Joan had been acting as his office manager as well as an accountant over the same time. 

The death of a lawyer with an ongoing practice creates multiple problems.  First and foremost is to identify any open cases and be sure that clients are advised so that their interests may be adequately protected.  A number of open cases were discovered with most being found in various county Probate Courts.  After a significant amount of time and effort all of those cases were resolved.  Additionally, the office was inspected to locate files that may have important client information.  Over 3000 files were reviewed and important documents have been located.  The process of notifying those clients is continuing at this time.  I would urge anyone that believes they may have important documents in those files to contact my office at 419.352.7522.

In addition, personal representatives of estates (Executors, Administrators, etc.) are personally responsible for unpaid taxes.  That means the Federal Government may go after the personal representatives assets if the taxes were not properly accounted for.  Since no one was available to assist with Federal Taxation issues, the Internal Revenue Service was contacted to provide a transcript of the returns for both parties.  That required a significant amount of time and effort and waiting for the IRS to provide the transcript.  The transcript disclosed that there are issues that are being addressed by my office. 

The death of both spouses has also greatly complicated things.  As a result, inquiries into the nature of assets and claims had to be made with little information.  Also, they did not have a succession plan for the law firm and accounting practice because they more than likely did not anticipate dying near the same time. 

Another issue complicating things is the condition of other properties.  The other downtown units located across the street had a water leak that significantly damaged those units.  Those units included four rentable apartments causing them to be un-rentable.  Also, the units could not be sold in that condition.  The repairs to those units were completed in the spring and are now available again as rentals.

I understand the village tolerated the condition of the properties for many years and would like to see improvement to the community.  I also understand this is exacerbated because of the developments with the Post Office. 

However, I believe we have improved the Village by salvaging four habitable rental units above the newer office building.  We are also removing the accumulated materials that built up in all of the other buildings.  We are working with a potential buyer on some of the other derelict properties.  We are trying to keep up with repairs on the Post Office, etc.. 

We had hoped that the properties may be ready for sale in the summer.  But, the issues with the Post Office have forced us to delay the sales until the issue with the Post Office is resolved. 

This account has been provided by my office to the Probate Court, the attorney for the Village of Wayne, the Clerk and other employees for the Village of Wayne, elected officials for the Village of Wayne and anyone that has contacted my office requesting information.

Latest Update:  The contractor has scheduled heating ventilating and air conditioning work for 10.26.2016.  The contractor anticipates completion of the project on 11.4.2016.  The estate has removed six 30 yard dumpsters full of material from the adjoining properties.

Update as of 11.1.2016:  The contractor advises that all repairs should be complete on 11.4.2016.  The Post Master advises that the Post Office will need to inspect the property and, if repairs are sufficient, the Post Office can reoccupy the building and commence services.  We are contacting the Post Office to make arrangement for the inspection and are hopeful they can do so this week. 

Update as of 11.11.2016:  The contractor completed the repairs on time.  The inspector for the Post Office found the repairs were sufficient and will forward his findings to the real estate office for the Post Office.  We are told that office may take up to one week to review the findings and authorize the Post Master to occupy the building.  We contacted that office yesterday and today in an effort to speed things up.

Update as of 12.9.2016:  Great news!! The Post Office Lease Management Office required two additional structural engineer appraisals of the property.  Those appraisals were recently completed and accepted by that office.  As a result, they are making arrangements to reopen the Post Office in Wayne.    The local post master was authorized to make those arrangements and we should be hearing from her soon about an opening date.

 

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