City of Winfield v. Douglas

ISSUE: Whether the district court erred in granting title to a piece of real estate, originally owned by Plaintiffs Richard and Martha Douglas, to the City of Winfield, Iowa.

HOLDING: No, the district court did not err and the Court of Appeals affirms.

SUMMARY OF FACTS:  In 2003, Plaintiffs purchased a building in Winfield for $3000.  The building was originally constructed in 1897.  After using the building for both residential and commercial purposes after purchasing in 2003, Plaintiffs began receiving complaints that the building had fallen into disrepair in 2009.  Plaintiffs were informed that the building was now considered a nuisance and were asked to remedy the problem.  The City offered to buy the building from the Plaintiffs for $3000.  Plaintiffs countered for $50,000 and the City did not respond.  The City filed suit, alleging that under Iowa Code section 657A.10A, the structure should be classified as abandoned and title should be awarded to the City.  The district court found in favor of the City, finding that the building had been abandoned by Plaintiffs and awarded title to the City. Plaintiffs appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Iowa Code chapter 657A applied because the building was “used or intended to be used for residential purposes,” as required for that particular code section to apply. Plaintiffs argued that this did not apply because the building was not being used for residential purposes at the time the case was pending in 2009.  The Court agreed with the district court’s determination that “the fact that the building deteriorated and became unsuitable for residential occupancy does not change the fact that the building was designed for residential purposes.” Therefore, Chapter 657A applied.  The Court also affirmed the holding that the building was “abandoned” based on the code language stating that this is the case where a building has remained “in violation of the housing code of the city . . . for six consecutive months.”  The Court found the house was “abandoned” based on the following evidence: 1) the electrical system was in violation of city codes, 2) there were numerous broken windows, 3) there was severe water leakage on the roof, and 4) there were large amounts of animal feces in the building.  Based on this conclusion, the Court held that the Plaintiffs had abandoned the house and the City rightfully received title to the property.

Steve Lombardi
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