Back Street home

Members of the Unsafe Building Board this week decided to spare this home on Back Street in Bruceville after family members interrupted its demolition in December.

Members of the county’s Unsafe Building Board are giving a Bruceville family another chance to make repairs to home after they intervened just moments before it was demolished.

The abandoned house at 408 Back St. was first brought to enforcement officer Mike Mikiska’s attention this summer as neighbors and residents of Bruceville began launching complaints regarding its unsightly condition.

Mikiska went through the proper channels laid out by the county’s Unsafe Building Ordinance; he inspected the property, deemed it dangerous then took the complaints to the full board for consideration.

“There were unlicensed vehicles on the property,” he reminded the board, “and while it didn’t seem structurally unsafe, it did meet the definition of an unsafe building per the ordinance as it was abandoned and a nuisance to neighbors.”

Mikiska in August sent both certified and first class letters to the woman listed in county records as the owner, Betty Chattin. The first was returned as undeliverable, Mikiska said. The first class letter, however, was marked as delivered.

No one responded in the allotted 30 days, so in November the board ordered the home torn down, and Mikiska hired Robinson Construction and Excavation, Vincennes, to do it.

The contractor moved in on Dec. 19 to raze the home. Word spread quickly amongst neighbors, and soon Chattin’s three children showed up on site to oppose it. They also called the sheriff’s department.

The situation escalated quickly, Mikiska told the board, and crews with Robinson Construction and Excavation called him to seek guidance.

“I told them to just leave the scene and that we’d sort it all out,” Mikiska told the board.

So on Thursday, sort it out, they did.

The board was unable to meet in January, so this month, Mikiska re-presented them information regarding the house on Back Street. A handful of family members, too, were there to plea for the house to be saved.

It is their intention, they told the board, to make repairs. One of Chattin’s daughters and a grandson plan on living there.

And board members were receptive to the idea.

“The last thing we want to do is take houses down,” Mikiska told the family, all of them gathered in the commissioners room at the Knox County Courthouse. “We would much rather see them rehabilitated.”

But now they have more of a mess than when they started, the family told the board Thursday.

Not only was damage done to the house by excavators hired to tear it down before they were able to stop them, they also claim things have been stolen out of the home in recent weeks.

There is also a legal hill to climb as Chattin didn’t leave behind a will when she died. Her children will have to hire an attorney to sort out the deed and eventually get the property into someone else’s name.

The repairs won’t happen immediately, the family told the board, but they can likely get underway with some this spring.

“We’re not expecting it to be done immediately,” said board member and local architect Lara Dawson, “but we will want to seem some progress.”

The family has already boarded up the home, Mikiska said, and cleared away some debris.

So the board opted to give the family until June to sort out the legal matters and begin improvements.

The board, too, talked briefly about additional ways to inform people that a home has been ordered torn down under the Unsafe Building Ordinance.

Previously, Mikiska has not gone onto the physical property per the advice of former legal counsel. He typically inspects it from afar, usually the nearest public road. He then sends letters in an attempt to notify the owner of the ordinance violation and, possibly, pending demolition.

Chattin’s family members said they did eventually locate the first class letter but only after the day the home was nearly demolished.

One family member suggested the board consider posting something on the physical property itself.

“It’s something we can certainly think about,” Mikiska said, to which their current legal counsel, Bryan Jewel, agreed.

In other business, board members issued a new demolition order on a home at 917 S. Illinois St.

Several others have already been ordered torn down by the board, and demolition is pending, including properties at 2 E. Indiana 58 in Freelandville, 432 W. Main St. in Wheatland, 12874 N. Second St. in Westphalia, 305 E. Fourth St. in Oaktown, and 421 E. College St. in Sandborn.

The Unsafe Building Ordinance, which was passed by the commissioners in 2019, looks to more efficiently handle complaints of eyesore and dangerous properties, and it designates $250,000 per year from the county’s capital improvement fund to spend razing them, if necessary.

When Mikiska receives a complaint, he first notifies the owners of said property via certified or first class letter and asks that the issues at hand be resolved within 30 days. If they don’t comply, he takes the property to the board for consideration. If they approve, the proper title work is done, the house demolished and a lien placed on the property.

County officials, too, have reached inter-local agreements with unincorporated smaller towns like Monroe City, Sandborn, Wheatland, Decker, Bruceville, Edwardsport and Oaktown to allow them the much-needed help, too.

Each gets up to $10,000 per year to spend.

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