July 23, 2010

Lawmaker's housing violation fines deferred

The city has opened three housing and property violation cases against a home owned by Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau in the past five years but agreed to defer fines and give her more time to bring the house up to code.

The city has opened three housing and property violation cases against a home owned by Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau in the past five years but agreed to defer fines and give her more time to bring the house up to code.

The home on East Eighth Street was registered in 2007 with the city as a neglected building.

Of 38 houses considered neglected in a roughly three-block area around the home owned by Faust-Goudeau, only fines for her property were deferred by the city, according to records acquired by The Eagle under the Kansas Open Records Act.

Most other owners of neglected homes in the neighborhood either paid fines — a total of $20,500 in all — or faced collections under the city's neglected-building ordinance.

The superintendent of the city's Office of Central Inspection says no one in his office gave Faust-Goudeau special treatment. And Faust-Goudeau, a legislator who is running for District 4 on the Sedgwick County Commission, says she did not ask for special treatment.

She did appeal for more time, according to records.

Faust-Goudeau said she has been emotionally unable to deal with the house because her mother lived there before she died in 2001. The home had been in both their names, she said.

"I don't look at it as a nuisance," she said of the home. "In a way, I think I was just trying to keep something of my mother's."

Superintendent Kurt Schroeder said earlier this week that "we would like all these things to get fixed as soon as they can for everybody. We try to work with people when they have legitimate reasons" for not moving quickly to resolve problems.

"There's a time to be punitive, and a time to work with people," he said.

He said Thursday that he couldn't answer accurately why Faust-Goudeau's fines were deferred while others in that neighborhood were not without looking at the circumstances surrounding each case.

"I can tell you there are many cases in the larger population of (neglected home) cases on which appeals have been made and extensions have been granted, with some penalty fees deferred or waived, depending on the extent of progress, the condition of the property and the circumstances at the time," he said.

Two cases still open

The city has had various housing or property condition cases open against the house at 2461 E. 8th since 2005. Two of the cases remain open. One is closed.

At one time, photographs in city files show, junk was strewn across the backyard and on the front porch. The grass hadn't been cut, and vines or weeds were growing up the sides of the house.

The trash case — called an NNE, or neighborhood nuisance enforcement, case — was opened in 2008 and closed in June 2009.

A case started June 28, 2005, that remains open made reference to electrical problems, missing siding and damage to guttering, windows and fences. The home sustained damage in a fire in April 2007 and was cited for not being secured in a way not accessible to vagrants, children or others.

Two uniform criminal complaints have been filed regarding the property. One, dated Sept. 19, 2007, refers to 16 violations, including failure to maintain the foundation in sound condition and good repair, failure to maintain windows and doors in sound, weather-tight condition, failure to secure the structure from unauthorized entry and failure to keep the premises clean and sanitary.

The city closed both the criminal complaints after windows were fixed and secured and the trash was taken care of.

In an e-mail last year to Schroeder about the case, city housing inspector Nolan Dealy said, "I know that there are some political issues that have kept this case in limbo since 2007. There has been minimal clean up since the NNE (neighborhood nuisance enforcement) case was opened in October 2008. Even with the recent effort to start cleaning the property, the owner is not making any progress on starting repairs to the fire damaged structure."

In another e-mail, Dealy said, "There are several other neighbors in this block of 8th St. that have NNE cases that are working to resolve their cases."

Of the homes registered as neglected near the house owned by Faust-Goudeau, a $250 fine assessed on a house on East Mossman was waived because the structure was razed; a $250 fine on another house on East Mossman was waived because progress was made; and a $250 fine assessed on a house on East Random was waived because the property owner cited no longer owned the home. Fines for the rest were paid or sent to collection.

The right to appeal

While the home owned by Faust-Goudeau was the only one that showed deferred fines, Schroeder said the city regularly works with homeowners cited for violations, giving them more time to come into compliance.

Property owners also have a right to appeal. Faust-Goudeau did appeal, Schroeder said.

"The appeal process is fairly informal in that the requests can be made in writing, by phone or by coming up to our office and requesting to visit with an OCI supervisor or me," he said. "Often, part of the process does involve meetings and/or reviews of current property conditions at the site."

The ordinance allows for a $250 fine every 90 days. The city assessed a $250 fine on April 30, 2009, and a $250 fine on Aug. 5, 2009.

On Sept. 4, 2009, Schroeder sent a letter to Faust-Goudeau that thanked her for meeting with him and an inspector the day before. During that meeting, they discussed remaining problems and a plan to address them.

In the letter, Schroeder outlined his understanding of the meeting and told Faust-Goudeau that "if we can agree to a satisfactory repair schedule within the next 30-60 days, the assessed penalty fees will be waived."

Between September and last week, there are no records of other fines. The city on July 16 sent a certified letter to Faust-Goudeau saying she needed to pay $250.

The letter said that any "owner or operator who fails to register a neglected building, along with submitting a statement of intent and/or fails to follow a statement of intent" is liable for a $250 fine every 90 days the building remains unregistered or a plan for compliance is not followed.

The letter said "registration penalty fees in the amount of $250 is now due."

Proceeding with fines

Faust-Goudeau said Thursday that she plans to deal with the remaining problems and either sell or rent out the house.

She said she had pre-paid some people to make repairs to the home, but those repairs were never made.

The time she spends in Topeka as a state legislator has made it difficult for her to stay on top of the house, she said. The Legislature usually meets for 90 days, from January through May.

She noted that she had had some roof work done and new windows put on the house after the fire.

She said she has been trying to keep the house in the family and said "it would get emotional for me when I dealt with it."

In a July 13 interview, Schroeder said at one time the property was covered with junk and debris.

"There was a lot of it," he said. "The whole front porch was filled. She got that taken care of."

During the fire, a lot of the house's windows were broken out. Some were replaced; others were repaired.

"She's done some things but not everything," Schroeder said. "The key issue remaining for her is the rear portion of the house. There are siding and rot issues on the back that have needed to be repaired."

He said that a few weeks ago, he instructed an employee to proceed with fines.

Faust-Goudeau said on Thursday that she had received notice of the certified letter and was on her way to the post office to pick it up.

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