Mer­ril­lville con­sid­ers jail­ing no-show prop­erty own­ers

Post-Tribune - - Local - BY KAREN CAFFARINI Post-Tri­bune cor­re­spon­dent

MER­RIL­LVILLE — Own­ers of blighted prop­erty who fail to at­tend un­safe build­ing/blight hear­ings when sum­moned could end up in jail, un­der an or­di­nance be­ing con­sid­ered by the Town Coun­cil.

At­tor­ney Michael Deppe, who rep­re­sents the town dur­ing the monthly hear­ings, rec­om­mended the hear­ing of­fi­cer be given con­tempt power, which would pro­vide him the au­thor­ity to is­sue a bench war­rant for prop­erty own­ers who skip more than one hear­ing.

Deppe also rec­om­mended that any funds gen­er­ated from fines for blighted prop­er­ties be placed in a non­re­vert­ing rainy day fund, to be used in the event the town needs to de­mol­ish a build­ing.

He pointed out the county is strapped for funds for de­mo­li­tion pur­poses.

Town officials, frus­trated over a lack of progress at the hear­ings be­cause own­ers of­ten fail to ap­pear, ap­proached Deppe for pos­si­ble so­lu­tions.

Coun­cil­man Shawn Pet­tit, D-6th, gave the ex­am­ple of a town­house in the Broad­field devel­op­ment off 93rd Av­enue that caught fire about six years ago and noth­ing’s been done to re­pair the home as yet. Win­dows are still boarded up and Pet­tit said neigh­bors com­plain that it smells.

He said the new­est owner failed to show to un­safe build­ings/blight hear­ings in June and July.

Pet­tit said this was just one ex­am­ple.

“None of these peo­ple are pay­ing any at­ten­tion to the hear­ings. We need to relook at our or­di­nance,” Pet­tit said.

Some of the own­ers are banks, live out of town or pur­chased the prop­erty at a tax sale with­out know­ing what they were buy­ing.

Deppe said with­out con­tempt power, the hear­ing of­fi­cer has no abil­ity to force some­one to come to the hear­ings.

“They won’t go to jail for not clean­ing their prop­erty. They’ll go to jail for not show­ing up,” Deppe said of the own­ers.

Town at­tor­ney John Bushemi agreed with Deppe’s so­lu­tions.

He said Deppe would work in co­op­er­a­tion with the hear­ing of­fi­cer to pre­pare a draft, which would be for­warded to Bushemi for re­view, then sent to the coun­cil’s or­di­nance com­mit­tee.

Pet­tit said he is un­sure how many hear­ings the owner would be al­lowed to miss be­fore a bench war­rant could be is­sued and the owner ar­rested.

“If they miss one hear­ing, I’d be will­ing to let it go. If they miss two hear­ings, that’s 60 days,” Pet­tit said.

| KAREN CAFFARINI/FOR SUN-TIMES ME­DIA

An empty town­house in the Broad­field sec­tion of Mer­ril­lville is boarded up.

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