ROCKFORD — City officials say they will no longer tolerate the continued degradation of a North Main Street neighborhood by a former nursing home they say is full of mold, attracts criminal activity and poses a public health hazard.
The city filed a lawsuit this week in Winnebago County Circuit Court asking a judge to order North Main Properties LLC, the owner, to repair or demolish the former Rockford Nursing & Rehabilitation Center located at 1920 N. Main St.
"We can no longer be held hostage to these problem property owners who will not follow our values and our standards as a community," Mayor Tom McNamara said. "It's just not acceptable."
The nursing home closed down in 2011 after it was decertified by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services over concerns about the quality of care, accidents, abuse and catheter care. The care of all but eight of the nursing home's 63 residents was subsidized by federal programs.
It has remained vacant since the shutdown. The company that owned the property is thought to be all but defunct. A judge in August 2017 ordered the company to pay a $300,000 fine that has gone unpaid and the property remained unchanged.
When the fine against the company proved ineffective, Assistant City Attorney Matthew Flores said the city pursued fines against its officers. In court documents, the company officers argue that because the property is owned by a limited liability corporation — which has been reactivated — they aren't personally or financially responsible for the property.
Lawyers for the officers — including nursing home director Menachem Shabat of Lincolnwood and Joel Atkin, the property manager, who was fined $45,000 after failing to appear for a code violation hearing and is now said to live in Israel — did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment.
"We are going to do everything we can to put pressure on them, and reach into their pocketbooks because they are not entitled to treat our properties like disposable assets to make money on, lock up and walk away," Flores said.
Alderman Bill Rose, a Democrat who represents the 9th Ward, said he donned a hazardous material suit and breathing apparatus to join a city inspection of the property over the summer.
Inside the building, they saw mold, patient medical records, doctor prescription pads and still-packaged prescription medication. Office equipment had been thrown on the floor and there was broken glass everywhere, Rose said.
"We wore the suits because of concerns about mold and ... asbestos," Rose said. "It was just torn apart. It looked like people got up and left one day and never came back."
Rose said the building is a drag on neighborhood property values and quality of life. He praised city administration for taking an aggressive stance against problem property owners. He also praised residents who volunteered in August to clear overgrown foliage and helped to board up the doors and windows of the property, making it look better.
Jeff Kolkey: 815-987-1374; firstname.lastname@example.org; @jeffkolkey