City of Decatur v. Ballinger (IL)

Summary: The term “owner” applies to sellers in installment land sale contracts and they can thus be held liable for demolition costs.

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City of Decatur v. Ballinger, 2013 IL App (4th) 120456, 988 N.E.2d 737; appeal denied, 996 N.E.2d 10 (Ill. 2013).


Facts: Dennis Ballinger entered into an “agreement for deed” with the Joseph and Virginia Abbott (Case 189), and another with Tammy Mickle and Patricia Perry (Case 239). In both instances, the City of Decatur eventually found the property uninhabitable and demolished.

In Case 189, Ballinger attempted to use a quitclaim deed to convey the property to the Abbotts, who responded by recording an affidavit of disclaimer, renouncing any interest in the property. Both the Abbotts and Ballinger received notification from the City regarding the state of the property, and the possibility of the City demolishing it if the issues were not addressed. However, when the City filed a motion for summary judgment to recoup costs incurred from demolishing the property, the trial court held Ballinger solely liable for the demolition costs. Ballinger appealed.

In Case 239, Ballinger and Mickle were contacted by the City regarding the state of the property, and were told that the City would abate the violation at their costs if they did not make the appropriate repairs. The City sued, and Ballinger was deemed the owner of the property and held liable for the demolition costs. Ballinger appealed once again.


Holding: Affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether (1) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in Case 189, and (2) if the trial court erred by finding Ballinger liable for the demolition costs in both cases.

Regarding the first issue, Ballinger argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the facts were disputed regarding whether, “(1) the Abbotts had “knowledge” of the 2004 quitclaim deed, (2) the Abbotts breached the agreement for deed, and (3) the property became dilapidated and required demolition during the Abbotts' possession of the property. The court held that, “[t]he first two contentions…were clearly decided in the 2004 case,” (res judicata) and “whether the Abbotts were in possession of [the property] when it became dilapidated…[was] not material to the issue of Ballinger’s liability.” Therefore, Ballinger did not raise any material question of fact barring entry of summary judgment.

Regarding Ballinger’s liability for the demolition costs, the court found that the ambiguity of the term “owner” in 65 ILCS 5/11-31-1 was best clarified by the Mechanics Lien Act. 770 ILCS 60/0.01. The Mechanics Lien Act applies the term “owner” to sellers in installment land sale contracts, thus contract sellers are still the owners and retain title to the properties. Moreover, under the terms of the installment contract, Ballinger maintained an interest in the properties and could have taken action to address the conditions that gave rise to the need for demolition. Ballinger had notice of the City's intent to demolish and the trial court properly found him liable for the demolition costs. 


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By: ATG Underwriting Department | Posted on: Fri, 06/20/2014 - 1:51pm