This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).

STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
C3-99-1382

In the Matter of a Hazardous Building
Located at 303 - 5th Avenue, NE,
in the City of Cambridge.

Filed February 8, 2000
Affirmed
Halbrooks, Judge

Isanti County District Court
File No. C0-96-993

Charles C. Kallemeyn, 280 Norwest Bank Building, 3200 Main Street NW, Coon Rapids, MN 55448 (for appellant Richard L. Peterson)

D. Sherwood McKinnis, Cambridge City Attorney, Lindberg & McKinnis, P.A., 2211 Main Street South, Cambridge, MN 55008 (for respondent City of Cambridge)

Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HALBROOKS, Judge

Appellant Richard Peterson appeals from a judgment enforcing respondent City of Cambridge’s order for the removal of a building he owns. Peterson challenges the trial court’s finding that he failed to comply with a court order requiring him to allow access to the building. Peterson also argues that he did not receive sufficient notice of the alleged hazardous conditions as required by Minn. Stat. § 463.17 (1998). Because the trial court’s finding that Peterson failed to comply with the court order was not clearly erroneous and because Peterson received sufficient notice of the building’s hazardous conditions, we affirm.

FACTS

In 1992, appellant Richard Peterson purchased a building. Following a number of complaints about the hazardous condition of the building and Peterson’s failure to remedy the problems, the city council of respondent City of Cambridge ("the city") adopted an order on November 20, 1995, directing Peterson to raze and remove the building. In the order, the city council found the building was hazardous and specified the following hazardous conditions: (a) deteriorated foundations, (b) deteriorated floors and floor supports, (c) inadequate walls, partitions, and supports, and (d) openings in the building allowing entry of trespassers and the elements.

On October 3, 1996, the city moved for summary enforcement of its order. On June 2, 1998, following a trial, the trial court modified and sustained the city’s order. The court found the building was a "hazardous building" based on "the inadequate condition of the plumbing, heating, flooring, walls, and rafters." Instead of razing the building, however, the court directed an alternative procedure. The trial court ordered Peterson to allow the city’s building inspector access to the building within 30 days, so that the condition of the building could be determined. The trial court gave the building inspector an additional 30 days to provide Peterson with a list of necessary repairs. Peterson was given the opportunity to challenge the list, but he was required to obtain a certificate of occupancy for the building within six months of the order. If he failed to do so, the city was permitted to raze the building.

After the trial court’s order was issued, Peterson’s father contacted the city to set up a time for the inspection. But due to a recent personnel change in the city attorney’s office, the city was not aware of the court’s order. The city declined to schedule an inspection date at that time, but later moved for an extension of the deadline. The trial court granted the city’s motion and extended the time to conduct the inspection another 30 days.

On September 3, 1998, the city sent a letter to Peterson at the building’s address, asking him to provide potential dates for the inspection. There was no response. On September 23, 1998, the city sent a second letter to Peterson at the same address, this time informing him that an inspection was scheduled for September 29 and that Peterson was to make himself available at that time. On September 25, the same letter was sent to the post-office box, that tax records indicated was Peterson’s mailing address. Peterson did not appear for the inspection. Peterson claims he did not receive any of the letters.

On October 6, 1998, based on Peterson’s failure to allow access to the building for inspection purposes, the city again moved for summary enforcement of its order, allowing it to raze and remove the building. On December 18, 1998, the trial court issued an order granting the motion.

D E C I S I O N

This court will not set aside findings of fact made by the trial court unless they are clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. Questions of law, such as questions of statutory construction, are reviewed de novo. Minneapolis Pub. Hous. Auth. v. Lor, 591 N.W.2d 700, 702 (Minn. 1999).

1. Statutory background

Minn. Stat. §§ 463.15-.261 (1998) authorize cities to order the repair or removal of hazardous buildings. The city must serve upon the property owner a written order that sets forth the grounds for the order, the necessary repairs (if any), and the time for compliance. Minn. Stat. § 463.17. The property owner may file an answer and, if an answer is filed, a contested hearing shall be held. Minn. Stat. § 463.20. If no answer is filed, the city may seek enforcement of the order on a default basis. Minn. Stat. § 463.19. In either case, the order may be modified by the trial court. Minn. Stat. §§ 463.19-.20.

2. Compliance with the court order

Peterson argues the trial court’s finding that he failed to comply with the court order was erroneous. Peterson’s argument revolves around two assertions: (1) he did not receive notice of the inspection, and (2) he contacted the city and offered access to the building, but his offer was denied.

Peterson frames his argument in terms of service of process. But this case simply does not present a service-of-process issue. This is not a case involving lack of notice of a hearing or a motion. The city was merely attempting to arrange a time for inspection of the building. Service-of-process law may be helpful, but only if the city had a duty to initiate the inspection and notify Peterson of the inspection. The trial court found that the city had no such duty.

The trial court’s June 2, 1998 order required that "Richard L. Peterson shall allow the Building Inspector of the City of Cambridge access to the building." The trial court dismissed Peterson’s arguments, finding that the burden was on him to ensure the inspection occurred. The trial court’s construction of its own orders is entitled to great weight on appeal. Mikoda v. Mikoda, 413 N.W.2d 238, 242 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Dec. 22, 1987).

We defer to the trial court’s interpretation of its order. The trial court’s finding that Peterson did not comply with the order, as construed by the court, was not clearly erroneous. Although Peterson’s father initially attempted to arrange an inspection, Peterson himself took no steps to initiate an inspection. And, once the 30-day extension was granted, neither Peterson nor his father made any additional attempt to initiate an inspection.

3. Notice of the hazardous conditions

Peterson contends the city’s order did not provide sufficient notice of the hazardous conditions. The statute provides little guidance on the degree of specificity required in the order. Minn. Stat. § 463.17 simply states that

[t]he order shall be in writing; recite the grounds therefor; specify the necessary repairs, if any, and provide a reasonable time for compliance.

The order must be sufficiently certain to provide the property owner with notice of the allegedly hazardous conditions. See Village of Zumbrota v. Johnson, 280 Minn. 390, 396, 161 N.W.2d 626, 630 (1968) (holding notice which required owner to eliminate the "hazardous building * * * and debris" was insufficient).

In the present case, the city’s order satisfies the statutory requirements. The notice sets forth the hazardous conditions individually and in an explanatory fashion. In fact, Peterson does not argue that the order was insufficient by itself. Instead, Peterson argues that the order is insufficient because it does not set forth all the conditions found to be inadequate by the trial court. Specifically, while the trial court found the building’s plumbing and heating were inadequate, the city’s order did not mention those conditions.

The problem with Peterson’s argument is that the trial court has the power to modify the city’s order. See Minn. Stat. §§ 463.19-.20. There is no reason the trial court should be prohibited from adding hazardous conditions to those set forth in the order, if evidence warranting the modification arises at trial. Perhaps a different situation would present itself if the trial court had found new hazardous conditions and then ordered the removal of the building. In that case, the property owner would be deprived of the opportunity to attempt to repair the conditions, having had no notice of the problems. But where, as in the present case, the property owner is given the opportunity to remedy the deficiencies, there is no prejudice resulting from the fact that the trial court found new hazardous conditions. See Johnson, 280 Minn. at 396, 161 N.W.2d at 630 (property owner must be prejudiced by deficiencies in the order).

Peterson argues that he was deprived of his opportunity to repair the new hazardous conditions found by the court. We disagree.

The hazardous-building statute is drastic, authorizing the destruction of private property without compensation. Johnson, 280 Minn. at 394, 161 N.W.2d at 629. Other jurisdictions interpret similar statutes so as not to allow the destruction of buildings unless it can be shown that the hazardous condition cannot be abated by repair.[1] But the failure to take steps to make the needed repairs can be grounds for allowing the city to demolish the building.[2] Minnesota is in accord with these jurisdictions. See Ukkonen v. City of Minneapolis, 280 Minn. 494, 499-500, 160 N.W.2d 249, 252-53 (1968) (affirming court’s order allowing the city to raze a building where the court had given the property owner an extension of time in which to make repairs, but no repairs had been made).

The trial court’s original order contained no finding that removal of the building was necessary. In fact, by ordering an inspection and providing time for repairs, the court implicitly recognized that repairs could abate the hazardous condition. Peterson, however, failed to take diligent steps to repair the building by failing to allow access for inspection. Although the decision to allow the city to raze the building is harsh, the trial court, it should be remembered, gave Peterson the opportunity to repair the building in its original order. Thus, the trial court did not deprive Peterson of his opportunity to conduct the necessary repairs; Peterson deprived himself of that opportunity.[3]

Affirmed.

[1] See, e.g., Echave v. City of Grand Junction, 193 P.2d 277, 280 (Colo. 1948); Albert v. City of Mountain Home, 337 P.2d 377, 381 (Idaho 1959); Childs v. Anderson, 73 N.W.2d 280, 282-83 (Mich. 1955); Newton v. Town of Highland Park, 282 S.W.2d 266, 277 (Tex. Ct. App. 1955).

[2] See, e.g., Tingle v. City of Wichita, 505 P.2d 717, 721 (Kan. 1973); Bond v. City of Moss Point, 240 So.2d 270, 273 (Miss. 1970); State Fire Marshall v. Schaneman, 279 N.W.2d 101, 105 (Neb. 1979).

[3] We are also mindful that public policy favors resolving these types of cases with a certain amount of expediency so that the public-safety hazards that are the subjects of the cases are removed. See Ukkonen, 280 Minn. at 500 & n.9, 160 N.W.2d at 253 & n.9 (indicating that there is a public interest in bringing such cases "to a head"). In the present case, the building has existed in a hazardous condition for at least four years.