Willmar committee declares mobile homes unsafe, seeks removal
WILLMAR -- The City Council's Community Development Committee will ask the council to declare two abandoned mobile homes unsafe in violation of city exterior storage and exterior maintenance ordinances. Both homes are in Regency East and Regency West mobile home parks, owned by Churchill Group of Carbondale, Colo.
The Willmar City Council tonight will consider the committee's recommendation to declare the mobile homes at 1400 Lakeland Dr. N.E., Lot 7, and 401 30th St. N.W., Lot F3, unsafe and to have City Attorney Rich Ronning initiate formal removal proceedings.
The vote to recommend the declaration to the council was 3-1 with committee members Jim Dokken, Steve Ahmann and Bruce DeBlieck voting in favor and Ron Christianson voting against.
Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, and Randy Kardell, city building official, told the committee that the declaration is the only way to have the homes removed as part of last fall's city enforcement effort to bring mobile homes into compliance.
"We are here today because we have a number of homes we think need to be removed from the park,'' said Peterson.
Of the 180 trailers in the two parks, the occupants of not more than 30 are properly caring for the homes and lots, according to Kardell, while about 150 are not in compliance. Violation of city ordinance is a misdemeanor.
Kardell said 125 cases went to court and 85 cases were unresolved. In many cases, the ownership of a trailer is unclear or not documented because owners do not update their documentation or they give their trailers to others without documenting the transfer. Also, they said park ownership and management don't know the owners or don't share ownership information with the city, according to Kardell and Peterson.
"Since the city has not taken action, the homes are being traded like baseball cards,'' said Kardell. "The owner, who knows they have to get rid of it, gives it to someone else.''
Peterson said owners who do appear in court are ordered to pay a small fine and are not instructed to repair the problem. He said the courts have said they don't want to make criminals out of these people for property violations.
"If we issue them a ticket for a misdemeanor, it's a $50 fine,'' Kardell said. "Out the door they go until they're ticketed again and again and again.''
The trailers become unsafe when the occupants vacate, the lights are turned off and the doors, windows, toilets, siding, and water heaters are removed, according to Kardell.
One trailer for which Kardell said he is seeking a declaration was occupied by a young mother and baby who Kardell discovered in January were sickened with carbon monoxide poisoning. She was heating the house with one working burner on a gas stove. She couldn't pay her electric bill and the trailer had no functioning furnace.
She was placed in emergency housing, said Kardell. Afterward, the water heater and plumbing froze and the windows and doors were stripped.
In October, Kardell said, he showed the parks' condition to the owner from Carbondale. Last week, said Kardell, the park "stepped up" and removed two homes after the sewers stopped functioning and sewage was running onto the ground.
Peterson said the situation is a health and safety hazard.
"When we went into this enforcement effort, we had high hopes that we're going to accomplish something because we have solid ordinances. The enforcement effort worked great,'' he said. "It fell apart once the people decided they didn't have to comply. Would you rather spend $1,500 to fix your house or go to court and pay a $50 fine? It's money in the bank.''
Kardell said the city would pay removal costs, which range from $3,000 to $5,000 according to demolition contractors, depending on whether a house is clean or if it's full of garbage, junk and still has appliances, furnace and a water heater.
Dokken and DeBlieck received assurance from Peterson and Kardell that the cases are well-documented.
Christianson said the problem rests with owners who are not responsible. He said he would rather spend the money on something else, like storm water improvements.
"My concern is where do we stop,'' he said.
In related business, the committee voted 3-1 to refer to the Finance Committee the task of finding removal money.
Kardell mentioned the possibility of having Public Works employees and equipment remove the trailers and recycle the steel.
The council will meet at 7 p.m. today in the Municipal Utilities Building chambers. The council will consider an ordinance to issue $1.785 million in general obligation bonds to finance the 2010 street improvement program and will take public comments during the open forum.
The council will receive reports from the Finance Committee and Public Works Committee; consider liquor licenses; consider the final plat of Northwood Court Second Addition; and appoint 2010 primary election judges.