New homeowner in $50,000 retaining wall tussle with city

A Burnsville, Minn. woman is being taken to court over a retaining wall that the city says is "dangerous." Heather Sommer bought the home a little more than a year ago, and received notice from the city only a few months into moving in.

The notice informed her that the retaining wall behind her house was in violation of Burnsville city code and needed to be replaced. Sommer says she received no less than six bids on the retaining wall, none of which were within her budget.

“The minimum bid I received was $50,000,” she said. “They said they couldn't even touch it for $25,000.”

Sommer says she repeatedly reached out to the city, but they weren’t any help.

“Them working with me is either, you fix it or we'll prosecute you,” Sommer said. 

Sommer even went so far to apply for a housing assistance loan from Dakota County. Unfortunately, she was only approved for $25,000 and she can’t find a contractor who will do the job for that amount.

“It's not like I'm not trying, and I'm not trying to make an effort. I'm trying to be a good homeowner, this is my first home. It's going to take time, it doesn't happen overnight,” Sommer said.

The city of Burnsville says they would have been happy to work on a resolution with Sommer, but she didn’t do enough to contact them. Sommer claims that is simply not true, as she says she reached out to the city several times and at one point was even told, “welcome to homeownership.”

When repairs didn’t take place, the city went forward with citing Sommer and assigning her a court date. Sommer says she never received the notice to appear in court, and by the end of August, a warrant was issued for her arrest.

“I'm being criminally prosecuted for a wall that I can't afford to fix,” she said.

Sommer was able to post bond and has a pre-trial hearing set for December 9.

While she waits for her court date, Sommer wanted to make clear that she wants to fix the wall but her financial status limits her. She feels targeted by the city, as she thinks they were waiting for someone to move in to issue a notice.

The city, however, says they inspected the property after receiving a resident complaint, and it was not part of the proactive property maintenance process.

Sommer bought the house on a bank foreclosure. The house sat vacant for one year before she purchased it.