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Fargo city leaders condemn house a second time

Fargo officials have deemed the house at 427 15th Ave. S. too dangerous to inhabit. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — Despite the threat of a legal challenge, city leaders agreed Monday, Sept. 10, to again condemn a house considered to be dangerously dilapidated by city staff.

Pete Sabo, the owner of the house at 427 15th Ave. S., said he only recently regained control of it and has been trying to make repairs. He said he'll do so if the city will grant him another building permit.

His attorney, Jonathan T. Garaas, said the city would be violating state law if it forced him to tear the house down. State law, he said, requires the owner a chance to make repairs if that's possible.

The attorney also criticized the city for failing to send a certified letter to notify his client of the Aug. 13 condemnation hearing.

Commissioners declined to follow Garaas' advice, voting unanimously to condemn the house, giving Sabo 30 days to tear it down before the city does it for him.

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They had made almost the exact same vote a month ago in front of a crowd of neighbors angered by the state of Sabo's house for the past 20 years. But the lack of a certified letter, as noted by Garaas, led City Attorney Erik Johnson to recommend another hearing.

Though city law does have such a requirement, Johnson argued that city staff had effectively done so by telling Sabo about the hearing and he actually showed up for it. Johnson said he persuaded the city to hold another hearing Sept. 10 out of fairness to Sabo.

No certified letter was sent for the second hearing.

If Sabo wishes to appeal the commission's decision, his next stop would be the courthouse.

Heeding criticism from homeowners unhappy with dilapidated houses long neglected by their owners, many of them landlords like Sabo, the city's inspections department has been cracking down. City staff has deemed at least eight other dilapidated houses to be dangerous since fall and forced several owners to demolish them.

The most recent is at 1101 Seventh St. N. On Monday, staff asked commissioners to set a condemnation hearing, which they did.

Taralson said there is some confusion about who actually owns the house. He said there's a chance it will actually get repaired, unlike some of the others.

Sabo, who owns the Bison Turf bar, gave several reasons Monday for not repairing No. 427, including that a tenant had effectively owned it the past five years and had made a mess of things, that he'd been busy trying to repair the bar after it burned down in 2016 fire, and that he'd had health problems, including a kidney failure.

County property tax records show ownership of No. 427 hasn't changed and that Sabo has been paying the tax since at least 2008.

Inspections Administrator Bruce Taralson has said No. 427 hasn't been in compliance with city building codes since inspectors first showed up in 2001. Sabo has taken out building permits but never completed any work, Taralson said.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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