Hobart officials and landlord continue to challenge repairs to ‘uninhabitable’ building – Chicago Tribune
The City of Hobart continues to enforce a 10-point repair order it issued against a landlord whose construction the city condemned in July.
Mayor Brian Snedecor offered Joseph Gore a compromise at Wednesday’s public works board meeting to meet with city officials and a licensed asbestos inspector at 215 East St. That way, the the licensed inspector would let it be known, as well as to municipal officials, to spot what, if anything, needs to be done regarding asbestos in the building; if nothing needs to be done, then the city will issue a permit to Gore’s contractor to begin electrical work on the 10-unit property, he said.
Attorney James Yannakopoulos, who appeared at the meeting with Gore’s attorney, Greg Bouwer, repeated Bouwer’s assertion that electricians would know how to stay away from areas where asbestos is suspected and that Gore benefits from acquired rights according to certain standards.
“At some point the bar just keeps going up,” Yannakopoulos said.
Hobart building official Karen Hansen said the city hadn’t changed anything to the 10-point list she gave Gore in August and there was more than electrical work Gore wanted to complete . She also wondered if what Gore and his lawyers weren’t completely saying was there was an asbestos problem.
“Why did Mr. Gore have someone fix the basement if he was already sure?” said Hansen.
Snedecor also reminded Gore and Yannakopoulos that the building’s HVAC cannot be “grandfathered” because it was completed illegally.
Hobart firefighters carried out a wellness check on an elderly woman who lived in a basement apartment in a century-old 11-unit building at 215 East St., just east of the city centre, some time after noon on July 11, city officials told the scene. Firefighters first discovered that the basement windows had been boarded up and sealed.
Firefighters later learned the woman had been moved out of the dwelling, officials said, but further investigation showed the building had, among other issues, standing water in the basement, leaks water in the main electrical box and out of the electrical outlets, and sewage from one unit bubbling up in the tub of another unit. City officials first posted bright yellow “Do Not Occupy” signs on gates that afternoon; the order to close it completely came the next day.
“Inspection of the building at 215 East Street, Hobart, Indiana, found numerous public safety violations, including but not limited to electrical issues, blocked exits, lighting signs/ inoperative outlets, water leaks, sewer backups, expired fire extinguishers, potential for asbestos and black mold, unsanitary living conditions, and lack of working smoke detectors,” the order reads. “The condition of the building presents a clear and immediate danger of serious bodily harm.”
The city ordered Gore to appear at its July 20 public works meeting, where he told council he would appeal his decision and reappear Aug. 3 for a hearing, the Post-Tribune previously reported. At that time, City Attorney Heather McCarthy acknowledged that Gore had taken steps to come into compliance.
Gore initially made progress in remediating mold, but in August Karen Hansen, Hobart’s building manager, said she and Gore had discussed several other items needing repair that he had yet to supplied with contractors and estimates. Among the elements, Hansen said, were “the demolition of the basement down to the studs” and the removal of all debris; replace condemned basement windows; Replacement of HVAC on work that “was carried out illegally without a permit”; and the repair of sewage backups and water leaks in several apartments. At that time, the board gave Gore 60 days to submit a CVC estimate and told him to report back at its September 7 meeting for an update.
On September 7, work was then stalled due to a misunderstanding over whether electrical work should begin before or after the building was checked for asbestos, the Post-Tribune reported. Hansen told the public works board that of the 10 items discussed at the first public hearing on the matter on Aug. 3, only one — bringing in a mold remediation company and air testing the building — has been completed. Progress on other items, such as surface testing for mold and the results of those tests; air quality testing for apartment three; the hiring of an asbestos inspector; submit a quote for the scope of HVAC work; document sewage leaks; and allowing the construction department to come back to verify the work, were not submitted, she said.
Although he was at the August 3 meeting, Gore’s attorney, Greg Bouwer, said he and his client never received the list. When it comes to asbestos, however, construction workers would know not to touch anything with asbestos, so Bouwer said they should be released from that obligation because “the law doesn’t require us to do anything that is”.
As for the HVAC system, Bouwer said Gore is “earmarked” in the remodel that former owner Jeff Greener did in 1996, so Gore isn’t responsible for updating it just because the city has determined that it is not up to code now. The city, however, has no record of a revoked permit for the HVAC system, Hansen said, including when Greener renovated it, so the city believes any work was done illegally.
“When you referenced being ‘acquired,’ do you still support that with no record of any work ever being done?” said Mayor Brian Snedecor.
Valparaiso attorneys Joseph Miyake and Anthony Ashford filed a lawsuit Oct. 10 against Gore and his rental company, Glenwood Properties LLC, on behalf of 18 of 24 tenants at 215 East St., court records show.
In it, the attorneys argue that Gore, 35 of Valparaiso, ‘owed a duty of care to the plaintiffs to ensure that ‘215 East St. was ‘maintained in a safe and habitable manner’ in accordance with, but without doing so. limit, to Indiana law. Gore, according to the lawsuit, failed and refused to keep and maintain the property “in a safe, clean and habitable condition; failed and refused to comply “with all health and housing codes applicable to rental premises”; and failed “to make every reasonable effort to maintain the common areas of a rental premises in a clean and proper condition” even after tenants brought issues to her attention and gave her time to resolve them.
The tenants, as a result, suffered “loss and damage to their personal property; loss of use of their leased premises; increased costs to repair and/or replace their personal property; increased costs related to the replacement of their leased premises; and other consequential damages,” the lawsuit read.
The tenants of the trial — Damien Albor; Tyler Cain; Tiffany Collins; Seth Hanna, Julie Martinez and their minor child; Marissa Morawska; Sierra Oswald; Julie Pemberton; Angela Ruiz; Jessica Smee; Cresiana Vasquez; Luis Vasquez; Timothy Wentz and Lorraine Guillen-Wentz; April Nelson and Sharon Wrenn – seek “all reasonable actual, compensatory, and/or consequential damages, recoverable punitive damages, recoverable pre- and post-judgment interest, recoverable attorneys’ fees and expenses, and any other relief fair and proper within the premises” on two counts, the lawsuit said. They are also asking for a jury trial.
Michelle L. Quinn is a freelance writer for the Post-Tribune.