MINNEAPOLIS - A house in which authorities found a man living among 18 dead cats and overflowing garbage had been condemned and deemed unfit for occupancy since 1997, city officials said.
But housing inspectors who checked on the property had no indication that someone lived there or that garbage and feces had overtaken the two-story house, said JoAnn Velde, deputy director of city housing inspection services.
Patrick Haney, the man whom authorities removed from the house Wednesday, received his first letter about clutter surrounding the house in January 1997. At the time, ''there was clutter, but it wasn't even close to the conditions found (Wednesday),'' Velde said.
Haney was ordered out of the house in May 1997 after failing to clean up tires, furniture and debris in the yard, she said.
''Mr. Haney's being in the property was a surprise to us,'' Velde said Thursday.
Tina Sanz, a customer service representative for the Minneapolis Water Department, said water service to the house was turned off almost three years ago.
On Wednesday, crews from the Animal Humane Society and the fire and police departments discovered garbage and debris stacked floor to ceiling, with tunnels that allowed Haney to get through. Police took Haney to the Hennepin County Crisis Center.
Keith Streff, an investigator for the humane society, said he would present evidence to prosecutors to consider animal abuse charges. Haney hasn't been arrested or charged, he said.
Neighbors reported concerns about numerous cats around the house in June, triggering the humane society investigation. Streff got the search warrant to enter the house on Wednesday.
Before that, Velde said, the only reports against the property she had seen were for environmental issues such as yard rubbish or long grass. The city had hired people to mow the lawn in the past three years, assessing the cost against the property, she said. If the lawn contractors had seen signs of someone living there, it would be common for them to report it, she added.
''If (the house) looks secure and doesn't look like anyone's living there, there's nothing we can do,'' she said.
Robert Maroto, manager for the Minneapolis Animal Control Program, said a dozen or more cats were still living in and around the house. The program is working with the humane society to capture them, he said.
Contractors hired by the city were cleaning up the yard outside the house. Velde said that if by next week the owner hadn't started cleaning the inside, the city would do the work, charging it to the property owner. But cleaning the house won't mean it's inhabitable, Velde said.
She said that the house will remain boarded until the owner brings it up to code. It wasn't clear whether Haney owned the property, Velde said. He and another man are listed on property tax records. If no repairs are made, the property eventually could be put on a list for demolition or rehabilitation, she said.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com.)