The owner of a dilapidated home on Ranch Road had a hearing today with Warsaw Code Enforcement Hearing Officer Larry Clifford on the fate of a property that has plagued neighbors for years.
Donna Antonides, who is the property owner on record of the house at 1405 Ranch Rd., was first notified by the city on Nov. 17, 2011, that the property was not up to code and needed to be repaired. It was then that the property was deemed unsafe.
During the Warsaw Common Council’s May 20 meeting, neighbor Michael Alspaugh asked the city to again look into the matter. (See story)
On May 15 of this year, however, Warsaw Building Commissioner Todd Slabaugh had sent a second letter to Antonides noting the code violations and demanding the property be brought up to standards fitting of the neighborhood. As of today’s hearing, nothing had been done to rectify the problems.
Clifford opened the meeting without Antonides, who arrived approximately 10 minutes late. In her absence, Slabaugh presented his findings noting that the house had not been occupied for more than 6 years and that water pipes in the slab flooring had frozen and burst resulting in extensive damage at least in the kitchen area. Slabaugh was allowed into the home in November 2011 and noted at that time that vermin, possibly raccoons, had gotten into the home and ransacked it. He also noted the sewer was not functioning.
It was at that time in 2011 when Slabaugh deemed the house unsafe and not to be entered without his authority. In his May 15 letter sent to Antonides – who is now legally Mrs. Mark Shaffer – Slabaugh noted that the order of 2011 was made “with the assumption that you would make the proper repairs to the property. As of today, that has not happened.”
Slabaugh estimated it would take approximately $35,000 to $40,000 to repair the house.
In addressing Clifford, Donna and Mark Shaffer apologized for arriving late saying they did not know where the hearing was being held. Clifford noted the information was included in the information sent to their Fort Wayne address. It was the first of many excuses the couple provided throughout the hearing.
Initially the couple disagreed with Slabaugh’s findings that some kind of vermin had been inside the house, but later in the hearing admitted that possibly raccoons had gotten inside. They also admitted to having placed D-con rodent control inside the house.
Cindy Justice, who lives directly across the street from the property, provided Clifford with about a dozen photos she had taken of the property as recently as June 2. Donna tried to discredit Justice accusing her of damaging the Shaffers mailbox and saying, “She’s never been a good neighbor … she destroyed our property; she beat the crap out of it,” Donna told Clifford, who raised his voice noting the mailbox is not part of the code violations.
“What’s at issue here is the condition of the house and yard!” Clifford scolded. “The mailbox has nothing to do with this!”
Clifford repeatedly tried to get Donna and Mark Shaffer to stay on the topic of the property and not to provide unnecessary information or opinions. When they were uncooperative, he took matters into his own hands and agreed to allow Michael Alspaugh to speak on behalf of the couple in regards to plans for the property.
Alspaugh is a neighbor of the property and has been mowing the lawn there to try to keep the place looking a bit more presentable to the neighborhood. He is also a contractor and, with the Shaffers consent, looked at the house to determine what repairs were needed and about how much it would cost.
Alspaugh said the plan for getting the property back to a habitable state would first involve emptying it of all of its contents and debris. Donna said family heirlooms and all of her furniture is still inside. Alspaugh said there is “a good deal” of debris inside the house, calling in “general garbage” and noting it would likely take a large dumpster to accommodate it all.
From there, he said it would take a new roof, trusses would need to be replaced, the flooring and the ceiling would need replaced and the plumbing would need to be repaired. “Structurally it could be saved, but it’s going to take a lot of money,” Alspaugh noted, saying Slabaugh’s estimate of $35,000 to $40,000 is probably accurate.
Donna said the problem they have faced in trying to repair the home is money, “we just don’t have it,” she told Clifford. “I have arthritis, I have health problems. I just can’t work like I used to, but we’re good Christian people.”
Initially, Donna said about $11,000 is still owed on the mortgage but that they will do whatever they can to save the house adding, “It’s our home and we’d like to move back into it.” She even offered to help with the physical labor that would be involved, which prompted Clifford to ask how, with arthritis she is not able to work cleaning houses like she used to, but she could hold a hammer and drive nails. She answered, “Because it’s our home. Wouldn’t you do what you could to save your home?”
“You haven’t done anything in the last 6 years!” he retorted. “The city is extremely serious about this.”
Slabaugh followed with, “(The neighbors) are losing property value because of this … I’ve got the public breathing down my neck. This is not going to go away.”
Despite the information from Alspaugh and how the Shaffers hope to proceed with repairs, Clifford said he saw no timetable for the repairs to begin. Mark Shaffer said the couple would, within the next week, begin to explore financial options.
Clifford scheduled a follow up hearing for 1:30 p.m. Monday, July 15. “At that time you will be required to have a real plan and real dates for progress,” he told the couple. “A cash bond may even be required at that time. That would be to guarantee the work gets done and could be up to 30 percent of the total cost of repairs.”
Additionally, Clifford noted the state allows him to enact a $5,000 penalty against the couple for not taking action to bring the property up to code, “So you ought to be serious and active on this in the next 30 days.”