Hilliard Northwest News

Britton Farms

Fire-damaged house under new ownership

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A fire-damaged house that has sat vacant for nearly three years in the Britton Farms subdivision soon will be refurbished and put on the market, according to its new owners.

Big Ram Enterprises closed on the residence at 4907 Britton Farms Drive on Jan. 8 for $162,000, said Robin Yocum, a partner in Big Ram Enterprises.

Yocum said via email that he and a business partner plan to renovate the residence and place it on the market as soon as possible.

The house would have been the subject of a court hearing Jan. 16 -- moved from the original date of Jan. 6 -- in which Hilliard was seeking injunctive relief to compel the previous owner to repair the property.

However, as a result of the purchase and the agreement of the new owner to repair the house, the city withdrew its complaint, Law Director Tracy Bradford said.

Bradford said Big Ram Enterprises specializes in renovations and will begin work immediately.

"This is great news for the city and the Britton Farms residents," Bradford said. "Being in such a desirable location, we were confident the property would sell quickly and it did."

Bradford said she communicated the pending sale of the property in advance to adjacent property owners with whom she had previously been in contact in the recent past.

"We're excited it's going to be fixed and trust the city's engineers will make sure it's done right," said Bob Stepp, 57, of Huntwicke Drive, a past president and current trustee of the Britton Farms Homeowners Association.

Stepp said Jan. 9 he saw a trash bin outside the residence.

"I think that's a good sign," he said.

While he is pleased the house appears to be on a fast track for repairs, Stepp said, he is critical of the city's slow response.

He said he did not consider it a coincidence that progress was made soon after frustrated residents vented publicly.

For the past three years, the fire-damaged home on the subdivision's main road has been boarded up following an early morning fire on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2011.

Norwich Township firefighters responded to the blaze at 5:24 a.m. Jan. 16.

Two people inside, Mohammed Soltan, then 24, and Ahmed Mahmoud, then 19, escaped the fire. Soltan is the son of the property owner at the time, Asmaa El Nagar.

According to Franklin County property records, El Nagar purchased the house for $313,000 on July 20, 2004, and the seven-room, 3,111-square-foot residence had no mortgage.

The arson originally was investigated as a hate crime, but no charges have been filed in connection with the blaze, according to Dave Cunningham, a Hilliard police detective.

Cunningham said last month the case remains open.

Bradford said the case was unique because El Nagar lived out of the country, making it problematic for the city to communicate with her.

Robert Kerpsack, an attorney representing El Nagar in a separate complaint against the insurer of the house, Liberty Mutual, said last month Liberty Mutual opposed El Nagar's effort to sell or repair the residence because it was material to Liberty Mutual's refusal to pay her claim.

Liberty Mutual maintained, Kerpsack said, that the fire was arson for profit, a standard defense of insurance companies.

Raymond Decker, an attorney representing Liberty Mutual, said Jan. 14 the company had denied the claim but could make no further comment because the case is active.

"We are still investigating the findings ... and need to let it run the course," Decker said.

He would not comment concerning why Liberty Mutual denied the claim, but confirmed the company classified the fire as an arson.

Kerpsack said Jan. 13 he did not represent El Nagar concerning the sale of the residence, but will continue to represent her concerning her complaint against Liberty Mutual.

At a Jan. 6 hearing, Kerpsack said both parties agreed to enter into mediation. If no agreement can be achieved, a jury trial will commence June 24.

The case is before Common Pleas Court Judge Lauren Beatty, but she will not be available to preside if a jury trial is necessary. Both parties agreed for a magistrate to preside, Kerpsack said.

According to court records, in addition to El Nagar, two other plaintiffs are listed: Mohamed Soltan and Salah Soltan.

Prior to the sale of the residence at Talon Title in Dublin, in which real-estate agent Wael Al-Fakir of Keller William Consultants Realty represented El Nagar, the property had been tax-delinquent.

Bradford said a tax certificate for the property, in the amount of $18,157, was sold to Woods Cove III, a California company, in November 2012.

By law, Bradford said, El Nagar had a one-year redemption period to reimburse the certificate holder for the amount due, plus interest.

El Nagar redeemed the tax certificate Oct. 29, 2013, Bradford said.

Franklin County property records indicate taxes in the amount of $2,610 were paid on the property in 2013.

Records indicate the current tax value of the property is $89,900.

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