South St. Paul deals with hazardous house


Last summer, neighborhood complaints that 225 Warburton St. W. was becoming an eyesore led South St. Paul city staff to inspect the vacant house. On the rear portion of the house, they found rotted siding and collapsted rain gutters.

Many home improvement projects in the house were started but never completed.

A damaged roof allowed rain and melting snow to seep in, causing extensive water damage.

Mystery surrounds owner’s whereabouts

The fate of a dilapidated South St. Paul house was decided at the Feb. 6 council meeting. The home at 225 Warburton St. W., will need to either be repaired or removed by March 8. 

“This is an extreme process we only use very, very sparingly,” City Attorney Kori Land said of the council’s unanimous decision.

Built in 1955, the three-bedroom house is just over 1,400 square feet and has been owned by the same family since 1959.

 

A hazardous building

The whereabouts of the longtime owner and her adult child is a mystery, and has compounded the problems surrounding efforts to get the vacant house up to code, according to city officials.

Land said the process of condemning a house is only recommended when all other options have been explored. Code enforcement is the No 1 line of defense, Land said, and abatement is the second line of defense.

“We have done both of those in this instance, and unfortunately we’re just not getting a response that we need,” Land said. 

The city was alerted to the house’s deteriorating state by neighbors, who complained it was becoming an eyesore.

Land said city workers did an interior inspection, and determined the house was hazardous.

State statues define a hazardous building as “any building or property, which because of inadequate maintenance, dilapidation, physical damage, unsanitary condition or abandonment, constitutes a fire hazard or a hazard to public safety or health.”  

Land asked to the council members to issue an order based on the city inspectors’ report.

The order requires the owners to correct or remove the hazardous conditions, or raze or remove the building and provide a reasonable time to do so.

After the order is served, the owners and lien-holders have 20 days to object to any facts in the order.

“If they do not respond within the 20 period, if no answer is served, and they don’t comply with the timeframe, the city can file an order with the court,” Land said, adding the city would ask a judge for enforcement of the order.

 

History of the property

Records show Mary and Robert Schulze purchased the house on Dec. 3, 1959. On Sept. 10, 2003, they reportedly obtained two mortgages for the property from Wells Fargo and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Wells Fargo has since assigned its mortgage to HUD.

Land said South St. Paul prosecuted the owners in 2005 for exterior code violations, and the couple made all the necessary repairs.

Land said that back in 2005, Mary Schulze described her husband as “a tinkerer and [his projects] exploded into his backyard and [he] had trouble containing his habit inside of the building,” Land said. 

Robert Schulze passed away in August 2009, leaving his widow, Mary, as the sole owner. Land noted that mortgage payments and property taxes are being paid on the house.

But she said the city isn’t quite sure where Mary is living. Staff have searched obituary records and found none for her. Land said one thing is certain -- she’s not residing in the home. 

After neighbors alerted city staff about the deteriorating condition of the property in the summer of 2016, code inspectors confirmed the complaints were valid.

They sent a compliance letter to the address on Aug. 9, 2016, regarding the exterior disrepair of the house and storage of debris, materials, equipment and personal belonging in the yard.

“It was difficult to gain access into the inside without anyone living there,” Land said.

An interior inspection was done in October 2016 after contact was made with the property management company.

Land said the results of the inspection were the building was hazardous.

Through the end of January, Land said the city worked with the mortgage company and the property management company to get them to voluntarily do something with the building. 

“They ultimately said, ‘We aren’t going to do anything else with it. We think it is secured. That’s our obligation and that’s all we’re going to do,’” Land said. 

The house’s hazardous conditions include: the furnace does not have proper ducts and the flue pipe is rotted making the heating system unsafe for use, open junction boxes, exposed framing and un-insulated walls, compromised structural bearing points, and the interior of the house is open to the outdoors allowing small animals to get inside. 

 

Who will foot the bill?

After showing the council photos of the property, Land said it was an extreme situation inside the house.

“I’m not sure if we get an expert in there, maybe they’ll say it’s salvageable and someone can come in and say the bones of the house are fine,” Land said. “But ultimately, this house needs to be repaired or removed.”  

Council member Bill Flatley said it seems no matter what is done, it will be expensive. He asked what were the chances of the city being reimbursed from either HUD or Wells Fargo. 

“This is somebody not taking care of their property and now the rest of us taxpayers need to foot the bill for this. I’m not fond of that idea, so I’m wondering how that works,” Flatley said.

Land said the only loan on the property is a HUD mortgage at this point. If the city has to pay for repairing or demolishing the house, the costs would go on the property as a tax assessment, and the mortgage company would be obligated to pay it. 

A foreclosure action has not started on the house because someone is paying the mortgage, so the city is assuming the repair or demolition expenses will eventually be paid, Land explained. 

Mayor Jimmy Francis said he drove by the property that day and noticed there were vehicles parked in the driveway, but assumed they belonged to a neighbor who knew no one was living in the house.

Land said normally this type of situation is not brought up in such a public manner because there are generally still owners living in their house.

“We don’t like to embarrass anybody. Here we have a vacant property, and we don’t know where the owners are,” Land said, adding the city is seeking help in finding them. She said it’s known that Robert and Mary Schultze had at least one adult child, but the city has had no success locating any family members.

She said anyone who may know where Mary Schulze is or any of her family is asked to call City Hall at 651-554-3200 and speak with Christy Wilcox.

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

 

 

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