EATON — Should public safety outweigh property owner rights? When should a municipality take action to demolish a building? What if by taking ownership of the building, instead of getting it safely demolished, the city gets itself and the property tied up in legal battles?
These are questions the City of Eaton and a local resident are facing regarding a property at 505 N. Barron St.
Eaton resident Annabelle Taylor appealed to the members of Eaton City Council during their meeting on Monday, Dec. 18. She is the neighbor of the property and claims as it falls down, it is destroying her own house.
She has said numerous bricks have fallen onto her house and that 505 “has been condemned for the last 20 years.”
During the meeting, City Manager Brad Collins stated the city is working with owner Brian Hicks as he tries to have the building demolished. However, Hicks has had issues with contractors and is currently searching for a new one to do the job.
Taylor claims the property is endangering both her safety and the safety of the public who uses the sidewalk. More than a month has passed following her appeal to council and Taylor claims nothing has changed.
“Nobody has contacted me at all. We were in there the other day asking for papers on bills, we wanted to see the bills on the city boarding the building up,” Taylor said.
“I bought my house two years ago and it was abandoned. It was totally unlivable and, of course, I had to have it. They did not disclose anything to me about the building next door — I thought it was part of The Stable. I had no clue that there was anything out of the ordinary.
“When I got my house I couldn’t get a mortgage. I got everything ready and made it livable and went to try again and they told me I couldn’t get one because of that building. It was open until the summer when I told them it was dangerous for kids and that the wall was moving towards my house.”
“They sent an architectural company out to see if the building was safe to tear down,” Taylor continued. “They said that it was not attached to The Stable, but they cannot come in with a wrecking ball. They have to take it down brick by brick. Now the city is waiting. They’re trying to give [Hicks] every opportunity to get the building torn down.”
She added, the building has been condemned in the past. In fact, she has a copy of the condemned sign. It states, “Condemned as dangerous and unsafe. All persons are hereby notified to keep out as long as this notice remains posted. Any persons willfully destroying, mutilating or removing this card will be punished to the full extent of the law.”
Taylor and John Cahill, who spends a significant amount of time at Taylor’s property, also claim there seem to be documents missing regarding the condemnation of the property at 505 N. Barron St. However, they did make a copy of a document from Nov. 24, 1998 which states that the building was unsecured and in disrepair.
It further states, “This building has been determined to be unsafe and a public nuisance and has been condemned and placarded as such.” The document informs the current owner (who was Stanley Coning at the time) he had 30 days to commence the necessary cleanup and repairs to bring the structure into compliance or “raze” the structure.
Collins said the the sign never called for the building to be demolished.
“We have something in the file from back in 1998 from the previous property owner where the facility was not fit for occupancy. The property owner was given notice at that time. They made some improvements and there are no standing demolition or court orders,” he said.
“The property owner came in last year and pulled a demolition permit. He stated that he wanted to take the property down. I believe the timeframe for taking that down was over the fall and winter. The contractor he had lined up was not able to perform the work and currently the property owner is discussing the project with other contractors.
“As of today, I am not aware of any outstanding violations. There was an outstanding violation last year where it was, once again, not fit for human occupancy. It was posted at that point as unsafe for occupancy. So the two notices that were getting to the current owner included a need to secure the property and a need to clean up the trash.”
“There was a combination notice in 1998, but that was not a court order and not a demolition notice or anything,” Collins said. “The owner would have two options at that time: either to make needed repairs or to tear it down. He chose to make repairs.”
Taylor is not aware of many repairs that have been made to the property at 505 N. Barron over the years.
“I have seen correspondence that states that they put a different door on the front of the building so they could lock it and they also put some siding on, maybe to cover up some windows. That is basically it,” Cahill said.
According to Taylor, she is now being asked by the city to make improvements to her building, but as she has had to make numerous repairs to her property already, she does not want to make any more until the situation is solved, as she feels like she is wasting money.
“The whole thing is, I don’t want the building to fall on my house, I don’t want it to kill me when it falls on my house, but I also don’t want it to fall on Barron Street and kill some passerby. The city just doesn’t seem to care about what a liability it is,” she said.
Collins said he wasn’t aware of Taylor being required to make any improvements to her own building, as that is not his area. He also said any damages that might have been caused to Taylor’s property would call for a “civil dispute” between the two property owners.
He added, “This situation has probably been going on since last year so it has probably been a good year. When we receive a complaint like this we monitor the situation, notify the property owner, and work with the property owner. We certainly understand her concerns and we are working with [Hicks] to resolve the problem.
“He is currently speaking with contractors about the work. His desire is to tear that property down. If something changes there is a chance we would have to take further actions, but there is not an outstanding issue. We will continue to monitor the situation and make changes to our plan as needed.”
“Hopefully we can work towards a resolution this year, but it is a Fourth Amendment right that restricts the government from seizing your property without the proper notification and due process,” Collins said. “We want to give him every opportunity to fix it himself. We do not want to overstep our bounds.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH