LAKEWOOD, OH (WOIO) - Chances are, sometime in your life, you lived near a nasty neighbor. Maybe you even complained to city hall.
Lakewood's Mayor Mike Summers said it's been a long standing joke in his office: the number one resident complaint they face is "neighbors behaving badly."
Neighbors who don't shovel their snow. Repair a broken gutter. Quiet a barking dog.
"I've complained quite a bit!" said Lakewood resident Pat Sullivan, who said he grew frustrated with his neighbor's junk cars and garbage piling up in the backyard.
"You know when you can't even sit on your deck because the garbage stinks so bad, you got to say something," said Sullivan.
But what if someone was complaining about you? Would you know who filed the complaint? And were you the only one targeted?
The city of Lakewood has an online portal where residents can go to report problems and concerns within the community.
We discovered more than a third of complaints submitted through Lakewood's Report a Problem/Concern website and mobile app since July 2015 have been filed by just a handful of residents.
Of the 4,318 complaints reported over the past two and a half years, 1,605 of the complaints were made by just five people.
"We need the eyes and ears of our citizens to see what's going on in our city, where we need to put our attention," said Summers.
But at what point do the chronic complainers become a drain on taxpayer resources and the city workers who have to investigate each and every gripe?
I asked Summers if the excessive complaints have ever become a nuisance.
"They could be, if taken to extreme," he said.
Mayor Summers doesn't know Jason Hicar, even though Hicar filed 415 complaints in less than one year -- the most by a single Lakewood resident.
Map of complaints filed in Lakewood between 7/1/15 and 1/8/17. Red markers indicate complaints filed by Jason Hicar.
Hicar lives in a condo on Lakewood's Gold Coast, far removed from the homes and businesses he's quibbling about.
We mapped out all of his complaints and found he's reported issues throughout Lakewood -- everything from a couch on someone's porch, to a house in disrepair, and a portable basketball hoop on a sidewalk.
Basketball hoop on sidewalk in front of a Clifton Prado home
Hicar's complaint stated the residents "continue to illegally store a basketball hoop on the public sidewalk in front of the house, blocking pedestrians."
"I think it's ridiculous," said Bianca Rivera, who told us none of her neighbors have ever complained about her son's basketball hoop. In fact, it was a neighbor who actually purchased the portable hoop for son.
William Wagner had no problem with Hicar reporting his snowy, unshoveled sidewalk.
"Everybody has a right to complain, no matter how many times they can do it," he said.
We wanted to know what motivates Hicar to drive around the city, looking for lousy neighbors. He never returned our calls.
We also tried to contact the rest of the top five complainers. Some passed away, others we couldn't find.
Lakewood's top complainers since July 2015
Clearly, not all neighborhood narcs are serial complainers.
Someone snitched on one Gladys Avenue duplex for having a front law full of dog poop.
While the tenants who own the dog recently moved out, the current renter was unfazed by the fact the problem is still unresolved. "It's just poop," she said. "It gets cleaned up eventually."
The fact is, whether it's poop or peeling paint, many of these complaints are valid under Lakewood's Codified Ordinances.
Ordinance 521.06 states residents and businesses are responsible for removing snow and ice from sidewalks.
Ordinance 1306.31 bans the use of indoor furniture on open porches, decks and patios.
Ordinance 1306.30 requires homes with peeling or flaking paint be repainted.
"As long as they are bonafide issues, we'll attend to them," said Summers.
Some of the complaints left us shaking our heads, like the one filed against father and Cub Scout leader Craig DiNicola.
The city reluctantly forced him to remove a Cub Scout recruiting sign from his tree lawn after receiving a complaint.
"Someone from the city came to my front door, and the first thing they did was apologize. They realized it was a ridiculous request, but they did get a citizen complaint about the sign on the tree lawn," said DiNicola.
Ordinance 1329.07 states "no sign shall be displayed in any tree lawn."
Craig DiNicola points to his tree lawn on Clifton Boulevard
DiNicola complied with the city's request and moved the Cub Scout recruitment sign into his front yard. The next day, the sign was gone. Someone had taken it from his yard.
While some nosy neighbors might be getting under our skin, they're also getting results.
"There's good and bad with it," said Mark Jewitt, the Property Maintenance Supervisor for Lakewood. Jewitt receives all of the complaints that come into the city's Division of Building and Housing then distributes the complaints to the proper inspectors. "They give the location they want us to inspect, and we send the inspector out," said Jewitt. "You get a large volume, you also see some good ones you didn't see before or an inspector didn't know about, so it's a give and take."
Speaking about recent complaints of unshoveled sidewalks, Jewitt told us "We cite the homeowner or commercial property owner to clear the snow from the sidewalk, and that usually takes care of it. People generally respond very quickly."
"If it's grass and they don't cut the grass, we'll send them a letter. If they don't respond, the city goes and cuts the grass and charges them for it," said Jewitt.
"People are passionate about this city and the way it looks. They'll let you know if there's a hair out of place," Jewitt joked.
We wanted to see what types of issues were being reported in local communities, so we filed public records requests to obtain copies of complaints made by citizens. Lakewood's Report a Problem/Concern website notifies residents who are about to submit a complaint that "Any information submitted may be subject to disclosure under public records law."
While Lakewood doesn't published complaints online, some cities do.
The Access Cleveland Heights website and mobile app features a map pinpointing issues reported throughout the city. Residents can report issues like potholes, tall grass and broken parking meters, submit a photo of the problem to go along with their claim, and track the progress of the issue until it is resolved.
"That was important to us, to have a tool that would allow them to track the progress of that complaint to completion and they know that something was done," said Cleveland Heights City Manager Tanisha Briley.
"What I like about the app is that it allows us to better track, and maybe we can see where there's a pattern that could lead to other issues. Maybe there's some systemic problem or some structural issue that we need to correct," said Briley. She told us the Access Cleveland Heights app makes it easier for city officials to communicate back and forth with residents, but stressed that people can still voice their concerns by calling city hall or visiting in person.
Akron, Avon, Bay Village, Bedford Heights, Broadview Heights, Brook Park, Brunswick, Canton, Chardon, Cleveland, Cuyahoga Falls, Lorain, Medina, North Olmsted, Strongsville, Twinsburg, Westlake, and Willoughby are just a handful of northeast Ohio communities where residents can report concerns online.
Are you having trouble getting an issue getting resolved in your neighborhood? Give me a call at 216-367-7311 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.