SCOTTVILLE — A blighted home deemed unfit for habitation will be vacated, and its occupants will need to find new accommodations, following a decision from the Scottville City Commission on Monday.
The city’s unanimous decision upholds an order from the health department deeming the home at 404 S. Main St. to be uninhabitable, and ordering that it be vacated.
The deadline for that order was on Nov. 6, according to City Manager Courtney Magaluk, who said the property had been an issue for years.
The home was being occupied by Shaun Hansen, who had been living there with his partner and a 1-year-old child.
Hansen asked the commission to delay its decision, citing financial hardships and trouble communicating with health officials. He said he’d lost his job due to COVID-19, and was looking for work and struggling.
“Give me a chance to save my home, please,” he said. “Me and my family have nowhere to go.”
Hansen said he’d been trying to reach the health department to sort out the issue, but claimed his calls went unanswered “for weeks.”
“I just need a chance to get in touch with the health department and get this all taken care of. Please. I’m begging you,” he said.
The problem is that Hansen has no legal claim to the home, according to Magaluk, nor is he a renter. Additionally, the order from the health department essentially took the decision out of the city’s hands, according to commissioners.
The home was owned by Becky Dodson, Hansen’s former significant other, who died in 2018.
The only heir was Dodson’s father, who refused to file for probate, as City Attorney Carlos Alvarado explained to the commission in August. At the time, the commission opted to publicize a notice about the property to alert anyone who might be interested in filing for ownership a chance to do so.
“When September came and went by and October came, nothing happened,” Alvarado said. “The most frustrating thing is the amount of time we’ve spent calling Mr. Hansen, trying and trying to reach him.”
Magaluk told the Daily News on Tuesday that Alvarado had tried to work with Dodson’s father and his attorney, Nick Krieger, as well, but that no clear path to ownership was seen.
Alvarado said he spoke with Krieger, and that Krieger noted he wasn’t Hansen’s attorney.
“Without Mr. Krieger being engaged, there was no use continuing the conversation.”
Finally, the health department declared the house a public health issue because it has not been connected to the city’s water system due to unpaid bills, according to Alvarado.
“The health department visited the house in October… and declared the house unsuitable, unfit, for human habitation,” he said.
Alvarado suggested a possibility of granting Hansen more time, but he noted that the order was directed at the city, and the city could do “very little” to compel Hansen to make necessary repairs to the house, since he does not own it.
He recommended adopting the resolution with a five-day contingency to allow Hansen to find a lawyer to facilitate committing “in good faith” to repairing the water situation and to begin the process of obtaining the title in some way.
Mayor Marcy Spencer said the issue had been drawn out for too long.
“I personally just want to have it be done, as do the neighbors,” Spencer said. “We are, in effect, supporting the health department’s order if we pass the resolution today, (with no contingencies).
“The bottom line is, the health department has deemed it unfit for humans. That speaks for itself, in my mind.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Rob Alway made the motion to pass the resolution, and it was supported by Commissioner Brian Benyo to accept the nuisance abatement as-is.
“It came to the point where the situation really was taken out of our hands,” Benyo said to Hansen. “I hope you understand that. It’s a health department decision, and we have to follow (it), and that’s just the bottom line.”
Magaluk said there have been complaints from several neighbors about interior and exterior issues, including a time during which there were 37 cats in the home.
Magaluk said the property will need to be vacated “immediately.” According to Alvarado, Monday’s resolution would authorize the Scottville Police Department to enforce that.
She said she hopes there are some social services that will help Hansen and his family.
The next step will be to execute the order from the health department and make sure the property is vacated and secured.
“Once that is done, we’d need to have a legal representative of that property to work with,” Magaluk said.
Commissioners remarked that if the situation changes, and Hansen does acquire legal ownership of the home, they’d be open to revisiting the issue if the necessary repairs are made and approved by the health department.
The city heard its audit report from Eric VanDop from Brickley DeLong, who delivered the presentation via Zoom.
VanDop said the city received a clean audit, though he noted that expenditures exceeded revenues due to some one-time charges.
The city’s total revenue in its general fund was $731,181, which was up about $30,000 from last year.
Expenses totaled $747,199, an increase of about $40,000.
In all, the city’s expenses exceeded revenue by about $16,000.
“Most of that (difference) is in general government areas (such as) the city manager search and the city clerk’s retirement and payout of benefits,” VanDop said.
Magaluk added that a couple of other projects accounted for the difference as well, including sidewalk replacement.
VanDop recommended closer monitoring of budgetary changes throughout the year, due to larger-than-normal budget variances, which were “probably due to COVID-19.”
Also on Monday
The commission also discussed continuing to utilize Zoom for public meetings in 2021.
Alvarado said that under the current legislation regarding open meetings, one of the few instances in which Zoom will continue to be allowed later than January is if there is a medical emergency. Alvarado said there is a consensus among municipal attorneys that medical emergencies can constitute health emergencies, and that continued concerns about COVID-19 could be considered enough to qualify continuation of handling meetings remotely, depending on the status of the pandemic at that time.
Magaluk said it’s something the commission is interested in, but it will not be on the agenda as an action item until December. The personnel committee will discuss the issue first, and bring a recommendation to the full commission on Dec. 7.
Additionally, Magaluk said Scottville residents will be surveyed about the possibility of changing the city commission times, currently set for 5:30 p.m., to a later time.