'I'm in a bad situation,' says owner of partially collapsed building on Near East Side

Monroe Trombly
The Columbus Dispatch
The intersection of East Long and North 20th streets will be closed until 1032 E. Long St. is completely demolished, according to the Columbus Division of Fire.

City of Columbus officials say what's left of a three-story building on the Near East Side will be knocked down in the coming days after it partially collapsed Monday.

Columbus' chief building inspector has issued an emergency demolition order for 1032 E. Long St., the back half of which suddenly gave way just before noon while a firefighter was on the second floor, checking for occupants after a section of bricks fell off the building earlier. 

The firefighter emerged unscathed following the larger collapse, and no one was trapped or injured, said Battalion Chief Jeffrey Geitter, spokesman for the Columbus Division of Fire. 

Anthony J. Celebrezze, deputy director of building and zoning services for the city of Columbus, said a city official was assessing recently-completed work on a neighboring building when bricks began to fall off the more than century-old building, which houses the Long & 20th Carryout and residential space above.  

"That's when he called 911 and also reached out to our office and we got one of our compliance inspectors out there," Celebrezze said.

Building's owner: 'I'm in a bad situation'

Jafar Mohamed Almahamid, who owns 1032 E. Long, told The Dispatch that he purchased the building in 2009 and had lived "off and on" on its third floor since then. He said he had just left for the library when the bricks started to fall.

"I'm in a bad situation, but God will lead me to a better way, a better path," said Almahamid, who offered little in the way of a plan for his next steps. 

Columbus firefighters were on the scene just before noon Monday at 1032 E. Long St. because a section of bricks had fallen earlier when a large section of the back half of 1032 E. Long St. at North 20th Street suddenly collapsed. No one, including a firefighter inside the building at the time, was injured.

Celebrezze said Almahamid is responsible for demolishing the 5,330-square-foot brick building, which is more than a century old and valued at $100,000, according to the Franklin County Auditor's Office. 

The demolition will cost anywhere between $60,000 and $80,000, according to Celebrezze. If the city completes the demolition, a lien will be placed on the property to ensure the city can recoup the cost, he said. 

Only a portion of East Long Street in front of the building is open, and North 20th Street approaching the intersection will remain closed 

Officials also had to vacate residents of a duplex north of 1032 E. Long St. because of  the possibility of collapse of the remainder of the commercial-residential structure next door.

Geitter said the corner market was closed Monday.

Unclear when building last inspected -- city not responsible 

It's unclear when the building was last inspected by a professional.

The city has no inspection program whereby buildings are inspected on an annual or every-so-often basis — it's up to the owner to maintain the structural integrity of their property, Celebrezze said.

That means the owner is responsible for hiring an architect, engineer or building inspector should parts of their building shift or cracks start to appear, Celebrezze said.

Buildings in the Downtown area that are more than 10 stories tall, however, are required to complete critical observation reports.

"That's basically to make sure that nothing on the façade is loose or going to fall off," Celebrezze said. 

Bricks coming loose or falling off in residential neighborhoods, however, are another matter.

When someone files a complaint with the city about bricks falling onto a sidewalk or into a yard, compliance inspectors assess the building's exterior and help its owner find an engineer, Celebrezze said

The only time a record related to the building's condition is created is when the owner applies for a building permit to make repairs, he said.

No building permits have been issued for 1032 E. Long St. in the last five years, according to Celebrezze. In 2014, lights and an external metal pole were installed, he added.

"(Over the past five years) we had some code enforcement violations (at 1032 E. Long). They were mainly minor infractions like parking cars on unapproved surfaces, trash, debris and high weeds," Celebrezze said. "But those have all been resolved and those cases were closed."

When visiting a property, sometimes enforcement officers come across something else that gives them pause, Celebrezze said. But that wasn't the case for 1032 E. Long St.

"Many times when they do go to places where they do see conditions that would lead them to believe that the structure might be compromised, they will reach out to our compliance section and the compliance folks will send one of their inspectors out the same day or the next day," he said.

The only time city officials can inspect the interior of buildings is when landlords or owners invite them inside. 

"We do not have the authority without a court order to go into a property without being invited," Celebrezze said.

He said he doesn't know if the city has ever been invited to walk through 1032 E. Long St., and Almahamid said he also didn't know.

Monroe Trombly covers breaking and trending news.