Code violations irk residents

KRV Legal

Crystal Lake neighbors face lawsuits for pre-existing building additions

By Nate Legue

Crystal Lake – Every Wednesday, people from Saralyn and Jeff Temple’s Church congregate in the couple’s three-season porch to study the Bible.

But the group might have to find somewhere else to meet because the porch was added without proper building permits before the Temples bought the house – and if they cannot satisfy McHenry County authorities, they might have to tear it down.

Throughout the Temples’ unincorporated neighborhood, residents are facing fines and lawsuits from the county’s planning and development department because of similar pre-existing building additions including porches, sheds and even a hot tub.

Since December, the Temples have spent $1,700 trying to bring the porch into compliance, but they still are unable to satisfy the county. First they were told to draw, the porch on graph paper to get a permit, then to submit a professional architectural blueprint, then to get a septic – field inspection, Saralyn Temple said.

“Every time we go to the county, there’s another hoop to jump through,” she said. “We’re pouring money down a hole. It isn’t doing us anything.”

Residents say a disgruntled neighbor, angered over their leaf burning, ratted them out to county building inspectors. Most of the residents in the Upland Acres subdivision, a cluster of streets south of Hillside Road, were unaware that their sheds were violating building codes until the county sent warning letters.

Although some residents have pleaded for leniency, county officials will not budge.
“Theirs issue is not with the county, their issue is with who sold them the property,” said Sue Ehardt, the county’s code enforcement officer and head of the planning and development department. “If I purchased a piece of property where someone did not tell me there were violations, my issue is with that person.”

Now, the residents complain that they have fallen into a frustrating bureaucratic battle with the county, so on Tuesday night, 17 residents met in a church recreational room to decide what to do about it.

“There can be power in being a squeaky wheel and calling and calling and calling,” said Elizabeth Vonau, a lawyer who used to work for the state’s attorney’s office. “There can also be power in having a representative speak for you.”

Perhaps the group could negotiate a neighborhood wide variance or seek redress from title insurance companies, Vonau suggested. If they try to organize, they will have to work fast. Many have court dates scheduled for April 11.

David Wilson, an accountant, hopes that organizing the group will bring better results than individually arguing with authorities.

“If we can all band together and have a united front and the force of loud voices, we can get something done,” he said.

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