Owner who won't raze ramshackle house petitions Supreme Court to take case

  • Updated: June 14, 2013 - 10:40 AM

TOWN OF NEENAH, Wis. — The owner of a ramshackle house in the Town of Neenah has petitioned the state Supreme Court to rule on his fight against razing the structure.

Town leaders said taxpayers have spent $30,000 on legal fees in the case. Neighbors say the house, valued at $1,000, is an eyesore and overrun with vermin.

Stephen Bates claims the house is his primary residence and that he is remodeling it, but town officials and neighbors say Bates hasn't occupied the home in years.

The town's building inspector, Gary Klinka, checked the house in 2010 and found it was "so dilapidated, inadequately maintained and so out of repair as to be dangerous, unsafe, unsanitary and otherwise unfit for human habitation, occupancy or use."

An appellate court ruled in February that the town properly ordered Bates to raze the house. Bates had 15 days to comply, or the town could hire a contractor to demolish the house and bill him for the work.

"Our counsel said we have the right to knock it down," Town Chairman Bob Schmeichel said, "but if there's the slightest, one-half-of-a-percent chance that he would win the appeal, then you would have the potential of replacing that piece of property. There's no way the town is going to be put in that position."

Neighbors are frustrated by the inaction.

"They said they were going to do something about it, and nothing was ever done," said Marjorie Berrig told Post-Crescent Media (http://post.cr/14APr9j ). "That was a few years ago."

Bates' attorney, Matthew Goldin, of Oshkosh, said a decision by the state Supreme Court is pending.

"We're hoping that they accept the case and hear the case," he said.

Schmeichel said the house is not only an eyesore, but also a public safety hazard.

"Just imagine if a little kid got into that place and fell through the floor and either harmed himself very drastically or died, and then having paramedics try to retrieve that person," Schmeichel said. "It's an unfortunate situation just waiting to happen. It's not if, but when."

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