MAHTOMEDI — At what point do neighbors and a city have the right to take over private property that has been a nuisance?

At the Sept. 17 Mahtomedi City Council meeting, City Attorney Bridget Nason said the city could legally begin the condemnation process of the home at 520 Robert Court under Minnesota state Statute 463. Nason said the homeowner must be given the opportunity to bring the property into compliance. If the homeowner fails to comply, the legal process of condemnation could begin, in which the city obtains approval from the court to intervene and mitigate the hazard, she said.

Nason's explanation came after another Robert Court resident, Gail Cederberg, appeared at the podium asking the city when something might be done about the eyesore and stench emanating from her neighbor's property.

Cederberg appeared once again at podium during the Oct. 1 meeting to say she'd been regularly checking the council agenda and minutes to see if she could find any updates about the nuisance house. “I thought there would be a determination,” she said. But there's still trash in the yard, the garage is still full, trash is blowing over to her house and no one came to talk to her. “I don't know if there's a timetable, but I'm going to keep pushing,” she said.   

Mayor Judson Marshall asked Cederberg to wait a bit and see what happened.

Cederberg quickly advised him she'd already been waiting 13 years for relief from the stinky house next door. The property owner is listed as Layla Douglass.

City Attorney Jay Karlovich updated Cederberg on the Statute 463 process of mitigating the hazard of a nuisance property, assuring her that “everything was proceeding as we said it would be.”

After a short discussion and presentation, by a vote of 3-0 (Councilmen Tim Deans and Richard Brainerd were absent), council approved a resolution and order to repair or remove hazardous conditions at 520 Robert Court.

Ben Eggan of the White Bear Lake Area Department of Inspections presented the timetable of events as activities at the home unfolded.

On June 19, Eggan's department received a call about the home, after which he, Code Enforcement Officer Marco Barton and Rental Housing Specialist Jeff Rose went to the site to meet with the owner. The homeowner provided access on June 28, and the subsequent inspection revealed that the home needed to be deemed uninhabitable. The owner then moved out, and an order was posted on the door giving her 45 days to clean up the property of clutter, trash, dog feces and urine. Not a lot was accomplished after 45 days, Eggan said, and attempts were made to secure estimates for the cost of cleaning it.

Bids for the cleanup and restoration work were high — more than $100,000 — so assessing the property was not an option, Eggan said.

“It became a monstrous number for the city to take on,” Karlovich said. Instead, the property owner was offered 30 more days to figure out the problem on her own.

After the 30-day extension, the property owner hired a company to come in and remove the contents. On compliance day (Sept. 16), Eggan went to the site and took pictures. Contents in the house were removed, but the garage was still full and untouched. The dog was gone, but a recreational trailer and shed were still full. The site was still dilapidated, and ammonia levels were still high.

As the homeowner still had not complied by the final date of Sept. 16, a memo to her was prepared. A resolution was drafted for council’s approval to start 463 proceedings.

On approval of the resolution, the city will give the homeowner notice of an additional 20 days to clean the place, and then the matter will enter into the court system, Karlovich said.

The 463 actions need to be a process, Karlovich said. An order must be served on the property owner and mortgage company, which will likely result in a contested proceeding. The city will seek to obtain a court order from the judge saying it can go into the property and abate the nuisance. “We will move as quickly as we can, but the court system is slow, so I don't know how quickly that will be,” he said.

Once the city receives the court order, staff will enter onto the private property and take care of everything, Karlovich said.

“City staff has made every effort to resolve the situation in a better way than this, and it has not worked,” Councilman Steve Wolgamot said. “We have no choice but to move forward.”

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