Local firefighters concerned over plywood ban

Ohio is the first state with such a ban to fight blight

U.S. Marshal no trespassing signs are attached to pieces of plywood covering doors and windows of a house Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 (AP Photo/Wilson Ring)
U.S. Marshal no trespassing signs are attached to pieces of plywood covering doors and windows of a house Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 (AP Photo/Wilson Ring)

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It is illegal in Ohio to use plywood to board up properties certified as vacant and abandoned.

Ohio is the first state with such a ban to fight blight. The law took effect last week and being seen as a boon for a practice known as clear boarding, using see-through polycarbonate windows and doors to secure vacant properties.

Youngstown Fire Chief John O’Neill said the plastic material could create difficulty for firefighters.

“I know a lot of it has to do with making the neighborhoods look nice and quality of life issues, but we will have some challenges with that,” O’Neill said. “I wish the fire department would have a little more input on that.”

The state became the first in the nation to outlaw the use of plywood on properties certified as vacant and abandoned.

The prohibition was tucked into one of 28 bills signed Wednesday by Republican Gov. John Kasich.

Fannie Mae, the federal government-sponsored mortgage association, has been using the clear polycarbonate windows and doors for several years and, in November, declared plywood unacceptable for securing vacant properties. A zoning committee in Chicago debated the issue this spring.

Robert Klein, founder of Cleveland-based clear board maker SecureView, said the Ohio law makes a bold statement against urban decay.

“This is a significant advancement for those engaged in the battle against neighborhood blight in Ohio,” Klein said. “Plywood is an outdated solution to a growing modern-day problem.”

Plywood has been an industry standard for securing vacated housing for so many decades that the very act of doing so is called “boarding up” the property. It’s widely available, easy to use and inexpensive.

However, supporters of using a different material say plywood is susceptible to break-ins and vandalism, obstructs the visibility for first responders and sends a visual signal that depreciates surrounding property values.

Marilyn Thompson, of APA-Engineered Wood Association, said the trade organization representing North American plywood makers views the debate as primarily aesthetic.

“Plywood has very good structural properties, so we wouldn’t see any significant difference in terms of security,” she said. “In terms of aesthetics, if building owners want to have the option to use that, that’s fine. But to ban the use of plywood and to make it mandatory to use the clear boarding really removes options for property owners and puts an additional burden on them by removing lower cost options.”

Thompson said a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood that’s 15/32 inches thick costs $17 to $20, while a similar-sized sheet of clear polycarbonate costs about $115.

In Ohio, the plywood ban comes close on the heels of another new law that sped up foreclosures on vacant and abandoned properties, sometimes called zombie properties because they languish like the living dead. It establishes a fast-track system trimming Ohio’s foreclosure process from two years or more to as little as six months.

Rep. Jonathan Dever, the bill’s sponsor, said the plywood ban applies only to properties sent through that process, which should now be turned over much more quickly. The Cincinnati Republican said they represent a fraction of Ohio’s total annual foreclosures.

“If you drive through a neighborhood and there’s boarded-up houses, what does that tell you? Nobody’s there,” Dever said. “The idea is, if you’re going to foreclose on a house, let’s not advertise that it’s empty. Let’s avoid break-ins and vandalism and let’s get it sold as soon as possible.”

The bill doesn’t specify any penalties for breaking the ban.


WKBN 27 First News provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. No links will be permitted. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s