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Unfinished house with $100,000 of work done to be razed unless owner gets reprieve

GRANITE FALLS -- Almost 16 years ago, Ted Thull started building a 4,400-square-foot house he intended to be his dream home in a new residential area of Granite Falls.

Dream home
Ted Thull started building his dream home in 2000 but found himself over his head and in financial difficulties before he could complete it. Now a judge will decide whether he should be given a chance to complete it, or allow the city of Granite Falls to demolish it and send him the bill. (TOM CHERVENY | TRIBUNE)

GRANITE FALLS - Almost 16 years ago, Ted Thull started building a 4,400-square-foot house he intended to be his dream home in a new residential area of Granite Falls.

He calculates that he has invested $100,000 into the project, not counting the value of his labor.

Unless a judge decides otherwise, the city of Granite Falls is prepared to raze the structure and bury it in a landfill, and send Thull a bill of more than $11,000 for the costs.

“It’s been hard on me, eating on me really hard,’’ said Thull of what’s been years of anguish over his unfinished house on Fromm Circle on the city’s east side.

When Thull did not show up for a court date in February, the district court awarded the city of Granite Falls a default judgement declaring the property a “public nuisance.’’ The city’s claims are based on a building inspector’s report citing a list of structural deficiencies in the structure.

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Among other things, the report cited signs of major swale in exterior walls, missing shingles and pieces of fascia, holes in the siding,  undocumented modifications made to floor trusses, and the need to replace a front porch and deck.

Thull will be asking the court March 30 to vacate the order declaring the property a public nuisance. He is asking for the opportunity to bring the property into compliance with building codes that are stricter than when he began the project.

He will also bring an engineer’s report completed on his behalf. It also cites the code deficiencies, but it includes the specific steps to comply with each.

Thull said he had not been informed of the February court date, although the city attorney’s office has filed affidavits with the court that a notice informing him of the court date was mailed.

Thull has also made appeals to the Granite Falls City Council for the opportunity to finish the home, but without success.

He estimates that he could correct the deficiencies in the building inspector’s report for a few thousand dollars. What he really wants, he said, is the opportunity to finish the house. He believes it will cost him an additional $50,000 to complete the house. It lacks interior Sheetrock, insulation, plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling systems.

Thull said he has two goals: To avoid losing the $100,000 he’s already invested, and more importantly, salvage his reputation as a contractor.

Thull lives in Oak Grove today. He is married and is self-employed as a licensed contractor and cabinet maker.

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He was a cabinet maker living south of Granite Falls when his rural home was flooded in 1997. He accepted a federal flood buyout. And, he took up an offer by the city of Granite Falls to flood victims and accepted the free residential lot on which this structure now stands.

He started building the house in 2000, and obtained a new building permit for the project in 2003. He ran into financial difficulties and started to use credit cards to buy many of the materials.

It came to the point that he no longer had the money to correct deficiencies or obtain a new building permit, even though he had already purchased many of the materials.  

He was not a licensed contractor at the time, and made his mistakes in learning-by-building, he said.

“I thought I knew more than I did,’’ Thull said.

There are plenty of flaws, he admits, adding that he does not dispute the building inspector’s findings.

City Council members in Granite Falls asked the court to declare the property a public nuisance due to the code deficiencies and the lack of action to correct them over a long span of time, according to City Manager Bill Lavin. He said the city had received numerous complaints from neighboring residents about the structure, which has not been certified for occupancy.

The city has a long history of correspondence to Thull from building inspectors who have cited deficiencies they wanted corrected, Lavin said.

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Attorney Doug Kluver of Montevideo is representing Thull. He said he will ask the court to reopen the case and give his client specific benchmarks to complete the project. Thull will also offer to take out a bond to cover the cost of the demolition if he fails, Kluver said.

“They should hear him out before they shove all that effort and money into a landfill,’’ Kluver said. “I think that there is a higher and better use of that structure than just tearing it down.’’

He called razing the unfinished house “the nuclear option.’’

If the house is razed, the $11,000 bill would ultimately be placed against the property as Thull would allow it to go to tax forfeiture, according to Kluver.

“There are ways to get out of this so that in the end it doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money,’’ Kluver said of letting Thull finish the project.

If he can finish it, Thull said he intends to sell it to recover what he can of his costs, and regain the life he had before his dream became a nightmare.

“My wife said I am not the person she had married and she wanted that guy back,’’ he said.

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