City levels $47,000 fine against owner of home with long-standing violations

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Marcia Nelesen
September 4, 2013

JANESVILLE--The city of Janesville has fined the owner of a Victorian home at 173 S. Jackson St. more than $47,000 because the owner has not made repairs ordered by city inspectors.

As per-day violations continue to mount, the parties now await a date in Rock County Court.

The fine is the result of three years of orders filed by the city requiring the owner, Margaret Zweifel, to make repairs.

Work orders are issued when inspectors deem a structure unsafe or unsightly. An order typically gives owners 30 days to fix problems.

Neighbors earlier this year took the city to task because staff had not followed through on deadlines the city had repeatedly set for the homeowner.

Neighbors complained not only of aesthetic and safety issues but worried the historic home is reaching a point at which it can no longer be saved.

Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz said in June the city had no excuses why the issues have remained unsolved except the city tried too long to work with the property owner.

In a Gazette article published in June, Winzenz promised to step up pressure to force compliance.

The only option left is taking the homeowner to court, where a judge or jury would decide if the fine is appropriate.

Every day the property is in noncompliance represents a separate violation ranging from $25 to $500 a day, Winzenz said.

“'The property owner can tell the judge why it's taken them two plus years to bring the property into compliance with building codes,” Winzenz said this week.

The assistant city attorney has suggested a $47,000 fine starting at a date when all parties agree the owner was not in compliance, Winzenz said.

“None of this means they don't have to do the work,” Winzenz said. “Every day that continues to tick by, even though we have filed action, still constitutes a separate violation.”

Because the violations have been ongoing for so long, the fine could be one of the largest the city has ever issued, Winzenz said.

Since June, little work if any has been done on the house.

Zweifel's friend, William Perkapile, said Wednesday he has been trying to help her with the home.

Perkapile said Zweifel's ongoing health issues are a reason she can't move back into the house, which is vacant. Zweifel has contacted a real estate agent and is now motivated to sell, partly because of the accumulating fines, Perkapile said.

"The only option is really for her to sell the house as quickly as possible," Perkapile said.

"If someone was willing to buy it today and willing to give us some time to get her things out of there, I'm sure we could negotiate something today," Perkapile said. "That's the position she's in."

Said Winzenz: “Certainly, we hope the property owner will get the property either repaired or sold and that the $47,000 having to be paid to us be used instead to rehab the property,” Winzenz said.

“Ultimately, that's our goal, to have the property restored.

“Unfortunately, we don't have the … ability to force the property owner to restore the property or contract to have it done.”

Winzenz said the city would work with the property owner or a new property owner, if the house is sold, to get the repairs completed.

“We're going to proceed forward with this court action at least until things are taken care of,” Winzenz said.

“This has dragged on far too long, and promises have been made and not followed through on.”

It's possible a new property owner could enter into a compliance agreement with the city, Winzenz said.

Zweifel already has paid for her inaction: $200 in reinspection fees and a $515 citation when she agreed in court she hadn't met the city's requirements.

In June, another eight citations were outstanding for holes in the roof, lack of stairs, foundation holes and broken windows.

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