48 hours

48 hours
In what was described as "one last effort to save his house," Matthew Williams was given a strict set of guidelines to follow Monday by the Vermillion City Council.

He was also given 48 hours after Monday's meeting to vacate his premises, located on Cottage Street, after aldermen reviewed photographs and written comments of two independent building inspectors who recently viewed his house and discovered several plumbing, electrical and structural code deficiencies.

Some of their findings were alarming: nearly none of the wiring in the house is proper and the roof is failing, causing portions of the interior ceiling to sag.

The hot water heater has been disconnected in the house. Williams heats the residence with small electric space heaters and by keeping pots of water boiling on his stovetop.

One of the ceiling leaks is diverted into the bathroom shower by what appears to be a piece of metal held in place by an electric cord. A desk lamp is clamped to the rim of the toilet in the house; the heat from the bulb keeps the water in the bowl from freezing.

The Vermillion City Council agreed with a motion by Alderman Jere Chapman to address this issue Jan. 16. In the meantime, Williams must:

  • Vacate the premises.
  • Fix code violations so that he will eventually be allowed to move back in.
  • Receive a written loan committment from the USDA to Williams that will provide funds to make the necessary repairs to the house.
  • Present bids from contractors to make the needed repairs to the city before work is allowed to begin that may eventually allow Williams to move back in his home.

    This isn't Williams' first run-in with the city. Approximately three years ago, he was warned several times that his property was violating several city codes as it increasingly appeared to be a salvage yard rather than a residence with its growing collection of old lumber, vehicles and other odds and ends.

    Williams claimed much of the material were "legitimate" building components.

    He also said the city deprived him of his constitutional rights when it eventually hauled much of stuff away � approximately 14 dump trucks worth � when Williams failed to meet city code requirements on his own.

    Williams told the council Monday, as discussion centered on the present condition of his home, that he has engineering and construction expertise to make the needed repairs.

    The problem, Mayor Dan Christopherson told him, is that the work never gets done.

    Farrel Christensen, Vermillion's code enforcement director, said it would be a mistake to allow Williams to do the needed improvements to his home.

    South Dakotans can get a state permit that allows them to do electrical and plumbing work in a residence, he said. That work is then inspected by state officials.

    "This is a case where the homeowner has the authority to do it, but doesn't have the ability to do it," Christensen said. "We've worked with Matthew on a number of projects, and it was part of our initial agreement that he not be the person to perform the work.

    "If we think he shouldn't be the person to be doing the framing and the nail pounding, I sure don't want to set him loose doing the electrical and the plumbing. I think it's important that someone other than him get the work done. We want it done, and we want it done right."

    Christensen added that the home may be beyond repair. More than once Monday, he suggested that demolishing the structure may be the best route to take.

    City Manager John Prescott reminded Williams that he must accomplish a great deal of work before the government funding he's counting on can become available.

    The city holds a lien against Williams' property after municipal employees did a substantial amount of work three years ago to clean up the property.

    "One important consideration that we must keep in mind with this USDA application is the city must subordinate its loan," Prescott said, referring to the funds Williams owes the city from the cleanup from three years ago. "We spent the last year in that process, and nothing happened, bottom line."

    City officials toured the property and communicated with Williams. "We outlined what needed to be removed per the court order that we had," Prescott said. "If that agreement was in place, then the city would subordinate the loan and we'd be able to move forward with this USDA application.

    "That didn't happen," Prescott said. "We spent the last year with all of that. I know Mr. Williams doesn't agree with the court's decision, but he signed the agreement and we've been through this all. I know we can talk about how close we are to this USDA application, but we're not, because the city has not subordinated its position on that application with respect to the lien on the property."

    Prescott said the city must take a firm stand.

    "This is a life safety issue," he said. "We have a person living in a home that does not have a proper roof ? it does not have running water in a

    bathroom other than a hose. We have a home without heat. As a community I think we need to understand what living conditions we want our residents to have."

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