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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — A Dunn County court commissioner has granted an eviction order giving the OCD Foundation 10 days to vacate the former nursing home building in Colfax at 1011 University Avenue.
Dunn County Court Commissioner Brent Skinner granted the eviction order following a hearing March 13.
Tanya Bruder, an attorney representing the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center, which owns the building at 1011 University Avenue that in years past operated as the Colfax Area Nursing Home, said her client was seeking the eviction order because the OCD Foundation had failed to uphold the terms of the lease agreement.
Travis Moessner, who also goes by the name of Travis Allen, is the founder of the OCD Foundation, a non-profit organization with a goal of helping homeless people find housing and employment. “OCD” stands for Our Communities Deliver.
Moessner/Allen planned to have a call center in the former nursing home building to field calls from people asking for help and to make telephone calls to raise funds for the foundation.
Moessner/Allen signed the lease for the building on October 29, 2018, and took occupancy on November 1.
Bruder said Colfax Health and Rehab was seeking the eviction order because, contrary to the signed lease, the OCD Foundation had made unauthorized alterations to the building, had allowed people to live in the building, had failed to pay utilities and other costs and had failed to comply with codes, laws and regulations.
According to the lease, if the OCD Foundation were going to make modifications to the building, written permission was needed before the work could start, Bruder said.
The OCD Foundation made “massive renovations” to the building that were not authorized. The OCD Foundation also had not obtained building permits for the work, she said.
The Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center spends between $60,000 and $70,000 per year on the former nursing home building for utilities and maintenance. The OCD Foundation signed a five-year lease with no rent owed for the first year. The benefit to Colfax Health and Rehab was to no longer have to pay utility and maintenance costs.
According to the lease agreement, from November 1, 2019, through October 31, 2020, the OCD Foundation would have paid $18,000 in rent for the year, or $1,500 per month. From November 1, 2020, and for each year remaining in the term of the lease, the OCD Foundation would have paid $30,000 per year in rent, or $2,500 per month.
Colfax Health and Rehab paid the utilities on the building through December 31, 2018, according to the lease.
In addition, the OCD Foundation has not paid wages to former employees, and Moessner threatened the women that if they filed claims with the state, he would start a smear campaign, Bruder said.
The lease states the OCD Foundation is required to follow all rules, laws and obligations, Bruder noted.
Bruder also pointed out she had brought a half dozen people with her who would be willing to testify.
The Colfax Messenger made an open records request to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and received labor standards complaints about unpaid wages filed by three former employees of the OCD Foundation.
According to the complaints filed with the state, the employees worked at the OCD Foundation for a month or six weeks but were never paid.
Each of the employees was hired at a wage of $12 per hour, and the total amount of wages owed is a little over $6,000.
One employee was in charge of writing grants and news releases, making media contacts and setting up interviews. The employee worked from December 17 to January 29 for a total of 209 hours and is claiming wages owed of $2,508.
Another person, employed as the contact center lead, worked for 127 hours from January 2 to February 1 and is claiming wages of $1,524.
A third employee worked from December 26 to January 25 for 166 hours as an executive assistant whose job duties included answering the telephone, scheduling and attending all meetings, greeting the public and “keeping the boss on track.” The wages claimed on the labor standards complaint are $1,992.
The biggest concern about the renovations at the former nursing home building is asbestos, Bruder said.
The building is known to have asbestos. The OCD Foundation had no renovation plan and no containment plan. The asbestos is why written approval was needed before any renovations could start, she said.
No people were supposed to be living in the building, but there are rooms filled with garbage and dirty laundry, Bruder said.
Dogs also have been allowed on the premises, and there are mice in the kitchen, she said.
Colfax Health and Rehab provided a notice of default on the terms of the lease on February 5, and on February 15, Colfax Health and Rehab sent a notification of the termination of the lease, Bruder said.
The OCD Foundation has failed to vacate the premises, she said.
Moessner said when he went on a tour of the building, it was a building that was about to be demolished.
The OCD Foundation planned to have offices, a food pantry and a thrift store, and the OCD Foundation’s mission is to provide assistance to the homeless, the hungry and the unemployed, he said.
Moessner provided the court commissioner with a printout of a chain of e-mail messages with Jill Gengler, administrator at Colfax Health and Rehab, that he said modified the terms of the lease.
The date of the last e-mail message was September 6, 2018.
Moessner is bound by the terms of the signed lease dated October 29, and discussions or written documents from prior to the date when the lease was signed are irrelevant, Court Commissioner Skinner said.
The first draft of the lease allowed alterations to the building, Moessner said, and he felt as if he had verbal approval to make alterations to the building.
Moessner also said he had been given just the last page of the lease to sign.
“Did you read the lease before you signed it?” Court Commissioner Skinner asked.
Moessner said he had been told everything he had asked for had been approved and was put into the lease, although he admitted he had not read the entire lease before signing it.
Gengler, who was one of the people on hand to provide testimony if necessary, said she had given the entire lease to Moessner but that she had not read the lease out loud to him.
The terms of the lease stipulate no alterations to the building without written consent, and there is no need to go over the alterations to the building — the alterations constitute a breach of the lease, Court Commissioner Skinner said.
Nik Pitzer, co-founder of the OCD Foundation, asked if the landlord would be willing to walk through the building to look at the conditions.
Pitzer said he was confident there was nothing in the building that representatives for Colfax Health and Rehab would be displeased with.
Moessner said he should have read the lease, but he was under the impression the OCD Foundation was able to make modifications to the building.
Pitzer said he was asking for “a chance to prove ourselves” and to “redeem ourselves” and said there was a “lack of communication from both parties.”
While it would be possible to spend two or three hours on testimony, Court Commissioner Skinner said he believed there was a sufficient basis to move forward.
As a court official, Skinner said he was bound to uphold the law and the lease obligations.
Skinner said he believed there was a breach of the lease and that Colfax Health and Rehab had the legal right to eviction.
The OCD Foundation has an admirable goal and purpose, but an admirable goal and purpose cannot be taken into consideration under the landlord and tenant laws, he said.
Moessner asked if it would be possible to go to mediation on the matter.
The tenant needs to be out immediately. The asbestos has created a public health issue, and there is no agreement that can be struck, Bruder said.
Skinner said he could not order mediation because the proceedings had gone past that point.
Even if the OCD Foundation is beneficial to the community, “we are past that point in the hearing,” he said.
Skinner said he could only deal with the lease and that he had entered a judgement of eviction.
Because of the liability exposure with the asbestos, the OCD Foundation cannot be allowed to stay, Bruder said.
The OCD Foundation has no substantial belongings, so it will not take them long to move out of the building, she said.
There was no remediation or containment plan for the asbestos, and there are “grave concerns” asbestos has been released into the building. The building also has rodents, filth and dog feces, and the OCD Foundation did not pay contractors who worked on the building, Bruder said.
The contractor has the asbestos report, and he is a licensed contractor, Moessner said.
The OCD Foundation must be out “as soon as possible,” Bruder said.
The property has been altered beyond repair, and the tenants cannot continue to occupy the premises, she said.
Court Commissioner Skinner reiterated he was granting an eviction order and said the OCD Foundation had 10 days to vacate the building.
A writ of assistance would be issued if required, he said.
A writ of assistance is a written order issued by a court instructing a law enforcement official to complete a certain task.