Health department tasked with nuisance investigations

BELLAIRE — Belmont County Health Department Deputy Health Commissioner Rob Sproul says the health department does nuisance investigations, but it cannot investigate what goes on inside a home.

However, if unhealthy living conditions involving children are suspected, they call Children’s Services, he added.

During a recent Bellaire Village Council meeting, it was noted there was a home on Harrison Street that had garbage piled high and a foul smell emanating from it. It was also believed that children were living inside, but that Children’s Services already had been contacted about the situation.

Sproul said his health department is required to do nuisance investigations of private properties. However, the health department does not cite people for high weeds or abandoned vehicles, but can do so for piles of trash outside a structure. Faulty septic systems also are investigated.

Sproul said the only way a sanitarian does an investigation regarding a property is if someone files a complaint with the health department. Such forms can be found on the department’s website — — or can be filled out in person, 68501 Bannock Road, St. Clairsville. Forms cannot be anonymous and must be signed.

“We can’t randomly look for stuff. It’s based on a complaint … we’re not just driving around,” Sproul said.

Sproul said when investigating, sanitarians do not voluntarily disclose who lodged a complaint, but if a property owner wants to find out who did file it, they can simply ask to see the paperwork at the health department. This is because, he said, Ohio is an open records state.

Sproul said the health department receives hundreds of complaints each year, but not all of those complaints end up being verified.

If an investigation does lead to verification of a complaint, the property owner is given time to clean up. If they not do not clean, the case is refered to the prosecutor’s office.

“We take it directly to court and let the judge do a fine; the court decides,” Sproul said.

Village of Bellaire officials have been discussing ways to cleanup the village not just of dilapidated properties with codes violations, but also of suspected drug dealers living, mainly, in rental properties.

During a recent council work session, it was noted about 400 people had registered their rental properties with the village. The landlords were given a deadline to get registered or face a fine.

In an effort to ramp up their codes enforcement, the village is seeking people to sit on a volunteer Zoning Appeals Board. In case a property owner wants to dispute an alleged code violation, they can appeal to this group of five people. There are no special qualifications necessary, except a person must be at resident of the village for at least a year. Letters of interest to sit on the board must submitted to the mayor’s office, 3197 Belmont St., Bellaire, OH 43906, by 3 p.m. Aug. 31.

To find the health departments online nuisance forms, which can be printed and mailed, click on “menu,” “environmental health,” “public health nuisance” and then “public health nuisance form.”

List of Nuisances the Belmont County Health Department will investigate:

Malfunctioning household sewage disposal/treatment devices;

Garbage/refuse storage and removal;

Public swimming pools, bathing places, camps, parks, trailer parks, and other places of public gathering;

Private water supply systems; and

Abandoned wells and cisterns.

“The above areas will be investigated when a signed written complaint is filed as required by the Board of Health. Where a ‘public health nuisance’ is found to exist, the department will take the necessary steps to attempt to bring about compliance within the provisions of the Sanitary Code,” according to the department.

Nuisances that are NOT covered by the Belmont County Sanitary Code:

Excessive growth of grass, weeds or trees;

Housing (no building/ housing codes in Belmont County);

Number of animals/nuisance animals;

Unclean living conditions;

Junk automobiles and or junk yards (contact your township trustees);

Burning of materials;

Illegal dumping/scrap tire dumping/construction materials;

Commercial, public and industrial sewage problems;

Unsanitary living conditions with children involved; and

Landlord/tenant problems.

“The above list will not be investigated because there are no public health regulations governing them,” the department notes.