International Falls

International Falls City Council Monday authorized its attorney to file and serve court orders to owners of three properties seeking repair or removal of the buildings that have been deemed hazardous.

The council approved filing orders with Koochiching County District Court to the owners of the ICO building, Highway 11-71; and structures at 1531 Second Ave. E., and 723 Ninth St.

The orders provide 45 days to repair and bring the structures into compliance with state and local requirements; or 60 days to demolish or remove the structures from the property.

The court orders seeking summary judgment for the city also require corrective action to be taken or an answer from the property owners be served to the city and filed in court within 20 days.

Should it be necessary for the city to take corrective actions, all costs expended by the city will be assessed against the property owner, the order noted.

The council, and Kelly Meyers, city building official and zoning administrator, noted that the owners of the properties have been notified several times about the issues and already given a number of opportunities to address the violations of city and state building codes.

Meyers told the council Monday that he believed staff with Inter City Oil Co., which owns the ICO building, were attempting to make some progress on the building, which has been unoccupied, and lacked heat and maintenance, for more than 10 years.

But said Monday that no longer seems to be the case.

He pointed to an email response from ICO staff dated May 13 that said the property remains for sale, but the company is evaluating options and sought updated contractor bids.

An October 2018 letter from Meyers to the company outlined damage to soffits, fascia, exterior covers and roof concerns caused by the lack of maintenance, Meyer said. This was followed up by another letter telling the company it needed to provide a timeline for its action prior to May 31.

No response with a timeline for action by ICO was received prior to May 31.

A contractor consulted about the building said it could be repaired, but at a cost that is more than the value of the building, Meyers said.

City Attorney Steve Shermoen told the council that should the company reject the order, it can send representatives to court to challenge the order.

Should the court decide to uphold the order, the city may hire a contractor to raze the building and assess all costs to the company, Shermoen said. However, he added that assessing doesn’t mean receiving.

“This has to go to court now,” said Mayor Bob Anderson. “This has gone on way too long. Kelly has been very patient. This is long overdue.”

Meanwhile, a vacated home at 1531 Second Ave. E. has been deemed hazardous since January 2016 when the sewer had backed up and filled the basement. In addition, the building was deemed uninhabitable in September 2017 when “potential new owners with no permitting or approval from the city” were making repairs. In addition, other damage to venting, foundation, siding, windows, roof and soffits need extensive repair, Meyers noted.

In 2018, the council accepted the residence as a donation from U.S. Bank National Association, and the city planned to demolish it, but the property was sold to a real estate agent from outside the community, Meyers said.

The rental property at 723 Ninth St. has been deemed hazardous and uninhabitable since September 2017, when city officials were notified by police that a tenant reported the ceiling collapsed.

“You could see daylight,” Meyers recalled of inspection at that time, when he discovered further violations including missing roofing, siding, windows and stair railings. The gas meter had also been locked off and disconnected, showing no heat at that time in the occupied building owned by Vicky Wickstrom, said the 2017 report.

Meanwhile, the city tabled action on consideration of a building demolition policy, which was the focus of a meeting of the council as a committee.

A draft policy will see further revisions at a committee meeting July 8 before it is brought to the July 15 council meeting for action.

In addition, the council extended a moratorium on the city’s assistance in demolition of privately owned structures.

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