GRAND FORKS — South Ninth Street behind Purpur Arena looks like a quaint neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown Grand Forks, with the exception of one home.
The yard of a house at 610 S. Ninth St. is overflowing with junk, and it's been that way for years, despite protests from neighbors and cleaning efforts by the city.
Since 2015 the city has cleaned Donald Masse's yard each year, and each time he gets the bill. So far, Masse has paid nearly $8,000 — money he reportedly gets from his social security checks.
"What I have in my property is my business," Masse said when asked if he thinks he owes it to his neighbors to keep his yard clean.
Masse has been fined $52,000 since 1997, but a judge put those fines on hold since Masse has paid the annual cleanup bill. "He's very smart. He's worked the city of Grand Forks for 20-some years," said neighbor Tina Hagaman.
Neighbors told the Grand Forks City Council Monday night that the mess at Masse's home has been bringing mice into their yards and is a ticking time bomb — something needs to be fixed immediately.
They told the council that Masse pours chemicals in his back yard to kill the grass so he doesn't have to mow it and that an electrical pole that is starting to fall on the back of his house. The pole is currently only being held up with a ladder.
"I'm going to lose everything, and it's not only me. There's a house on the other side," Hagaman said.
A neighbor snapped pictures when Masse removed a window, offering a glimpse into the home itself, where collected items are stacked up to the ceiling.
"The door only opens so far," Hagaman said. "He has to slide in."
City council members expressed frustration Monday as they approved yet another cleanup plan, but the Grand Forks city attorney said there is nothing legally that can be done to address the long-standing issue.
Masse's family has not been able to help him. Attempts to get him civilly committed by a judge were denied. Inspectors say his house is up to code, but without probable cause, a more thorough inspection is illegal.
The city council said it plans to bring the issue to lawmakers in Bismarck.
"At some point, the city needs to be able to take some sort of action, whether he becomes civilly committed or we simply take the home or demolish it," said City Council President Dana Sande.
"We don't want to see him homeless. We don't have any ill will," said neighbor Tom Haupt. "We just want it controlled."