456 S. Lincoln

A home in the 400 block of South Lincoln Avenue in Kankakee has been under scrutiny in the courts.

KANKAKEE — A homeowner in Kankakee will be able to continue living in her house despite it being declared a “nuisance residence.”

On Tuesday, Judge Bill Dickenson ruled Irene Guzman and her husband can stay in their home in the 400 block of South Lincoln Avenue. The ruling came down to wording of a state law regarding nuisance properties.

Last month, Dickenson ruled the house was a nuisance but had both sides offer briefs on wording that allows the homeowner to post $5,000 to remain in the home. The issue is whether the bond is discretionary or not.

Guzman’s attorney, Eric Davis, argued it is discretionary, while prosecutors Jonathan Watson and Renee Wright argued it is not.

The caveat for retaining the home is that no further incidents occur in the house, garage or property.

If that does occur, city officials will be able to make residents vacate and board up the home for one year.

Dickenson ruled no gang members or gangs can live or visit the house for one year.

“I didn’t write these statutes but in plain words the bond can be posted. I’ll let the Legislature decide if there needs to be changes,” Dickenson said at the hearing. “If you fail to comply, you will be in contempt. The neighbors have a right to be safe in their homes.”

Davis said he and his client had no comment at this time.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said the judge’s final order would determine when this goes into effect.

“I would just say our disagreement here is not with the judge, but rather with the Legislature. They need to revisit the statute and change the law,” Rowe said. “It is contrary to public safety that we should be forced to wait for yet one more incident to occur, but that is the law. The next incident could be deadly.

“I will be bringing this issue to our state reps and state senator with proposed language to correct the loophole that allows a gang to remain in a declared gang nuisance property. The system prevailed — we proved our case — but the law failed us on the remedy.”

City and county nuisance abatement ordinances allow for the closing of a house deemed a chronic public nuisance by a judge.

The city’s code enforcement department can deem a residence uninhabitable. If that happens, the owner must bring the building up to code as well as pay any outstanding fines, fees and taxes in order to allow people to live in the home again.

According to court documents, Kankakee police have been dispatched to the 400 block of South Lincoln Avenue 150 times since September 2017 for reports of shots fired, ordinance violations and more.

One of those shots fired incidents occurred Sept. 16, 2019, in which an Illinois Central school bus carrying Kankakee school students got caught in the crossfire when a member of a rival gang, the Harrison Gents, opened fire on the house. Witnesses told police gunfire was returned by people standing outside Guzman’s house.

As for the residence at 456 S. Lincoln, officers responded to 29 calls from Oct. 9, 2017, to Oct. 2, 2019.

Reporter

Jeff Bonty has worked for The Daily Journal since September 1986, starting in the sports department before moving to news reporting in 2002. He's a native of Indiana and graduate of Purdue University. His email is jbonty@daily-journal.com.