Bank forecloses on zombie house

Two outstanding warrants, five cats and a whole lot of rats. 

That's what the city of Cottage Grove found in a house on 6th St. after beginning abatement as part of a new lease agreement conjured up to help stem the growing concern over zombie houses. 

The house on 6th was the subject of several city council meetings after it was discovered that the owner had stopped paying the mortgage and moved out of state leaving the home in the hands of squatters who were causing a sanitation issue in the neighborhood. The city refused to turn water on at the residence but the inhabitants were able to obtain other utilities including electricity. 

"This is really the last option," City Manager Richard Meyers told the board Monday night concerning the city's lease agreement with the former, legal owner of the house. Under the terms of the agreement, the city pays $12 per year to take possession of the house and begin remediation on the property. 

Meyers also informed the board that the clean-up process was not going as planned. 

"Our regular pest guy actually got nauseas and had to leave the house," he said. "The swarm or colony or whatever its called rats is still there." The infestation, Meyers said, is so extensive, the city is altering its abatement plan. 

"We don't want to go in and take all the garbage piles out and the rats scurry into the neighbors' yards and into the sewer system," he said. The city will reportedly remove one layer of trash, set traps and allow exterminators to come in before removing another layer of trash. The cycle will continue until the house--which still has approximately $95,000 left on its mortgage--is clean; a process that is expected to last a few weeks after several individuals were found living in the dwelling, including the attic space. 

City attorneys drew up the lease after several failed attempts to contact the bank regarding the status of the house. Since signing the lease last month, Meyers told the board that the bank has begun the foreclosure process. 

"It can be a long process," Meyers told The Sentinel, "so we will probably still have the lease this year but we're doing minimal repairs and clean-up because we don't expect to get much of that back," he said. He also noted that future use of the house could be limited due to city codes after city officials have been inside the facility. 

"Unless the things we know are bad are fixed, that can lower the value of the house as well," he said. 

Councilman Ken Roberts asked if the city is considering approaching other zombie homes in the same manner. However, Meyers noted that there is no way to know how many of those homes are currently in Cottage Grove. 

"There could be people not paying their mortgage," he said, "and living just like we do. There's no way to know, and we don't want to know who's paying their mortgage and who isn't, until there's a problem." 

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