Deadline for demolition appeal passes

Last week’s deadline for the owner of this deteriorated house in St. Joseph to block demolition passed, and city officials are seeking permission to enter to look for asbestos before the structure can be torn down, which is likely several months away.

ST. JOSEPH — Last week’s deadline for an appeal to an order to demolish a badly deteriorated St. Joseph house passed without any action by the owner, and the city is taking the next steps to remove the eyesore and safety hazard.

City Attorney Laurie Schmidt said they had heard nothing from Dennis Knuth, owner of the house at 1051 Niles Ave., by Thursday’s deadline for him to have the structure demolished. That order was upheld by the city’s Property Maintenance Review Board in 2017, and confirmed by  a Berrien County judge and the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear the case in September, setting off the 45-day period for the owner to act before the city could take over.

Schmidt said the next step will be for city inspectors to get inside and look for asbestos. The inspectors have asked the owner for permission to enter the building, and if that is not granted a court order will be required, she said.

That won’t be the first trip inside. In 2017 Cecil Derringer, the city’s chief building inspector, obtained a court order that allowed him to gain entrance. He had first become aware of problems at the property in 2016, when the owner was issued a permit to fix the roof that was covered with a large tarp, which remains in place.

No work was done in the six months allotted. Neighbors complained about the potential health and safety hazards, along with having such an unsightly dwelling near a major intersection at Main Street.

Once inside, Derringer found what he described as “total chaos,” with extensive water damage, mold and piles of debris. City staff estimated the cost to make the vacant house habitable would be at least $122,000. The house and property had an assessed value of about $48,000, Derringer told the Property Maintenance board.

The owner claimed that his right to due process had been violated because he hadn’t been given enough time to make repairs. Subsequent court rulings upheld the demolition order, declaring the house uninhabitable and stating that the owner had made the situation worse by failing to make repairs.

Once the asbestos testing has been completed, the city can seek bids on the demolition and hire a contractor, Schmidt said. The cost of the demolition will go on the property tax bill if the owner hasn’t paid it before that time.

Schmidt didn’t have a timeline for when the actual demolition would take place, but said she expected it would take several more months before the bulldozers could roll.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak