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Council considers eviction

Buyout puts homeowner in conflict with city

Jill Schramm/MDN A house at 720 2nd Ave. NE is city property by way of an eminent domain order, but it remains occupied by the previous owner, who calls the purchase price unfair.

A Minot resident whose home was acquired by the City of Minot through eminent domain says she will resist any eviction attempt by the city.

The Minot City Council is being asked to authorize eviction proceedings against Deborah Luetzen, 720 2nd Ave. NE, on the grounds that she is remaining in the house illegally.

John Zakian, resilience program manager for the city, said the intent is not to push Luetzen out of her house but to try to bring her to the negotiating table. The city reports having been stymied in attempts to contact Luetzen prior to the district court ruling in September that set the $167,000 purchase price on Luetzen’s home.

Luetzen, who said her attorney will seek an injunction against the city, finds the city’s purchase price for her four-bedroom home to be unreasonable.

“It just isn’t fair to pay that little,” she said, noting the price per square foot is less than 40% of the amount she believes would be required for replacing the home.

“I have been looking for four years for another place,” she said. “I have looked in a half dozen states. You cannot find anything anywhere for that amount of money that’s comparable.”

Additionally, Luetzen said, the $3,000 offered for moving expenses is inadequate to pay what a move would cost.

Luetzen continues to live in the house, which still has electricity and heat. The city discontinued water service, so Luetzen hauls water. Most neighboring properties already have been purchased and demolished for the flood protection project.

Luetzen said the city has encouraged her to move into a smaller place or a manufactured home, but she wants a comparable home that would accommodate her needs and allow for family visits. Nor is the city giving consideration to the loss of rent from an attached apartment, she said.

“I like a big house,” she said. “For them to tell me you don’t need it any more because your kids are grown, that’s nobody’s business.”

Luetzen said she did not attend the court hearing on the sale, having learned about its existence two weeks after it occurred, via a letter sent after the hearing.

Zakian said there have been no formal conversations on purchase price or comparable homes with Luetzen so he is unaware of whom she might have spoken with or when. The city received no response in reaching out to Luetzen through standard or certified mail letters to negotiate a sale or inform her in advance of the court hearing, he said. Nor was hiring a private investigator to find her successful.

The city’s $167,000 offer was a starting price that would have been subject to change had Luetzen agreed to negotiate, Zakian said. Funding through the National Disaster Resilience Program and State Water Commission pays for buyouts.

Zakian said no relocation reimbursement has been presented to Luetzen. Homeowners work separately with the city’s consultant, CDM Smith, to determine relocation costs, which are based on the size of the home.

Also, the city will find three comparable homes outside the flood zone and, based on an average of their sales prices, determine whether there is a gap between the negotiated sale price and the cost of acquiring a comparable home. Zakian said the city will pay a differential as part of the relocation cost so the homeowner can afford a comparable home. To date, the city has paid as much as $35,000 in differential on a relocation.

“If she would finally agree to talk to us, then we would find her three comparable homes,” Zakian said. “We can talk through the process of maximizing her relocation benefits and give her an opportunity to move into another house.”

Without those conversations, she is trespassing and the city has liability on the property, he said.

The court issued an order last December confirming the city’s title to the property based on the city’s $167,000 payment deposited with the court.

The offer from the city is $14,000 less than she paid for the house, which had needed a lot of work at the time, Luetzen said. She added she’s invested $100,000 in flood-related repairs since 2011 and still owes a repair loan of $30,000.

Luetzen, who has lived in the house since 1985, said it once had belonged to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. According to church history, St. Paul’s officially organized in 1905 and acquired its first church building at the corner of Second Avenue and Eighth Street Northeast, building a next-door parsonage in 1910 and adding a church extension in 1923. The property later became residential after the church acquired downtown property and completed construction on a new building in 1950. Luetzen said her grandmother and father were baptized in the original church building.

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