City to raze putrid duplex where hoarder lived and cats died

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2012 - 8:18 AM

The family criticized the city's handling of the case, but neighbors urged the home's demolition.

The city of Minneapolis will demolish a duplex owned by a clinically diagnosed hoarder after the stench of dead cats, animal feces and rotting debris became a neighborhood nuisance.

The City Council on Friday unanimously accepted a recommendation from city inspectors that the vacant 3,500-square-foot duplex at 1126 6th St. NE. be razed out of safety concerns. Barring any further challenges, the home's demolition should occur this summer, said Tom Deegan, the city's director of housing and fire inspections.

A city inspection last summer found major damage to ceilings, walls, floors, windows, the foundation and the roof of the 107-year-old house.

"The property produced a smell that emanated from every room in the property due to the debris, animals dead and alive, and the rotting of materials due to leaks in the roof," the city said in a document submitted to the council urging the building's demolition.

Records show that the duplex was co-owned by Brenda Leese and her mother, Alice. Brenda Leese is described by family in a city document as suffering from a hoarding disorder. Alice Leese, 93, died shortly before Christmas in a southwestern Minnesota nursing home.

Deegan said he spoke with Brenda Leese many times about getting the duplex in livable shape, but "she didn't see any of it as a problem."

Speaking Friday for the Leese family, Betty Prellwitz expressed disgust at how the city handled the fate of the home where her sister lived for more than 20 years.

"We have fought the city of Minneapolis and tried to make sense of this," said Prellwitz, who lives in Minneota, Minn., and now has welcomed her sister into her home. "This is the powerful over the powerless."

Prellwitz explained that her sister has had a run of trouble, including dealing with her mother's numerous health setbacks, losing her job and "then her car blew up."

"I'm not saying the house wasn't in bad shape," Prellwitz said. "But Brenda was extremely depressed."

The building's troubles first caught the city's attention in May 2011, when a natural gas leak was reported. Firefighters at the scene found "significant health hazards" at the vacant property, according to city regulatory records. The "excessive amount of clutter" blocked city Animal Control personnel from removing the cats inside.

After a demolition order was issued in October 2011, Brenda Leese appealed and said she would rehabilitate the building. Despite some work on her part, the order to raze the duplex remained.

Statements from neighbors sent to the city's Inspections Department all decried the duplex as a drag on the community and called for its destruction. One Sheridan Neighborhood resident wrote of having "observed with horror as the crews loaded dumpster after dumpster with debris from the home, reeking of cat feces and urine, mold and all manner of filth. The hazardous materials gear and respirators worn by the clean-up crew were a necessity for these terrible conditions."

Some in the otherwise well-maintained middle-class neighborhood reported being unable to be outside in the summertime due to the smell from the property.

Deegan said that despite all of the protective gear he wore when he entered the home a few months ago, "it was very difficult to be in there with that type of safety protection."

Deegan estimates that the city has had to raze about 400 structures over the past five years that are "troubling for different reasons. We see lots of properties that have significant structural problems. This one had the combination of structural and nuisance things such as garbage."

The property owner will be charged about $15,000 to cover demolition costs, Deegan said. He said that "we really work a lot with owners and explain the process and the opportunities" to avoid forced demolition. "This case was extremely challenging. It's unfortunate."

Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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