Milwaukee man faces foreclosure because he didn’t pay parking fine
The ticket went unpaid for four years, eventually amounting to $2,600 in fines
By RAQUEL RUTLEDGE
Peter Tubic ignored a $50 parking fine in 2004, and on Monday, it cost him his $245,000 house.
Among other health issues he's dealing with, Peter Tubic has had headaches dealing with his van, which is parked in his driveway without a license plates. He faces foreclosure on his home and is in a dispute with the city over citations he received for the van's lack of plates.
A Milwaukee man received a $50 fine for parking a van with no license plates in his driveway. He ignored the ticket for more than four years, and last week the city foreclosed on his house.
In what city officials believe is the first case of its kind, the city foreclosed on Tubic's house on W. Verona Court after repeated attempts to collect the fine - which over the years had escalated to $2,600 - had failed.
"Our goal isn't to acquire parcels," said Jim Klajbor, special deputy city treasurer. "Our goal is to just collect taxes. . . . It is only as a last resort that we would pursue . . . foreclosure."
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Richard Sankovitz technically stayed the judgment to give Tubic one last chance to explain why he hasn't paid or even responded, but Sankovitz ruled in favor of the city's foreclosure.
"The city was entitled to a judgment," Sankovitz told Public Investigator on Thursday. "There hadn't been an answer to the complaint."
Tubic takes the blame for disregarding the 15 or more notices he received seeking payment and warning of the pending foreclosure on the house, which was fully paid off, but says he had good reason.
He was physically and psychologically unable to handle the situation, he says.
According to the Social Security Administration, Tubic, 62, has been disabled since 2001. He has been diagnosed with psychological disorders that limit his "ability to understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions," according to documents from the administration.
In addition he suffers from chronic pain caused by degenerative diseases of the knees and spine, as well as chronic respiratory disease, diabetes and obesity, among other ailments.
In several lengthy conversations with the P.I. Team spanning two weeks, Tubic frequently grunted in pain and broke down in tears.
"They're trying to take my house away for a parking violation," Tubic said. "I know it was my own fault for letting it drag on, I've been under mental duress. I haven't been able to handle this."
Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and law professor at Marquette University, called the case a human tragedy and an example of how people can fall through the cracks in the system.
"It seems like a drastic remedy," Geske said of the city's foreclosure. "But on the other hand the city has to enforce its zoning laws. I don't fault the city for that.
"It's a shame someone didn't intervene to help him. . . . It would be nice if someone who worked for government would take the time and say 'let's look at this and see if we're doing the right thing.' . . . It would be nice if they would remember the human factor here."
Tubic first got the fine for parking his Ford E150 with no license plates in the driveway of the home, which belonged to his parents at the time . The radiator had broken and Tubic couldn't get his plates renewed unless the van passed an emissions test. He didn't have the money to make the repair and had more pressing worries, he said.
His father was suffering from dementia. His mother was battling cancer, and he was their live-in caretaker. He needed to shop, cook, clean, maintain the house and tend to his parents' needs.
The van repair could wait, he thought.
Then a man from the city showed up and told him otherwise. It was February 2004. Tubic would have to move the van or get license plates for it within 30 days, per city zoning codes, the man said. Somebody had complained.
Several days later Tubic's dad died. Tubic was overwhelmed, he said.
"It was a combination of things financial and emotional, my caregiving role, all heaped themselves on me at the wrong time," he said. "I still don't function well."
Month after month the city Department of Neighborhood Services sent an inspector to the house to see if the van had moved or had license plates. Each time a new fee was assessed. And a letter was sent to Tubic's home.
At no time did Tubic call or write to object or explain his circumstances, city officials said. So the bureaucratic cog kept turning.
Tubic's $50 fine escalated to $1,475, and after it was clear he wasn't going to respond, the city filed a tax lien. While Tubic paid the property taxes, he never paid the $1,475 for the zoning violation. With interest and penalties, he owed $2,645 before the city foreclosed on Monday.
Ronald Roberts, a code enforcement manager with the Department of Neighborhood Services, said the zoning code that prohibits people from parking unlicensed vehicles in their driveways is aimed at keeping residential properties from looking like junkyards.
The city issues about 1,500 fines for such "nuisance" violations - which also include illegally placed trash - every year. Many are for repeat inspections.
"Put yourself in the position of the neighbors," Roberts said.
Turns out in this case the neighbors weren't the ones to complain. Tubic had not been getting along with his brother, and his brother made the call. His brother, Jovon Tubic, said he called at the request of their mother, according to a letter from Jovon to Peter Tubic.
"One day in a very bad mood, Mom told me to get rid of the cars in the driveway right away," he wrote.
Peter Tubic, who ran unsuccessfully for the 97th District state assembly seat in 1996 and again in 1998, said he tried to explain to city inspectors that this was an internal family dispute but that inspectors "didn't want to hear it."
"If a violation exists, a violation exists," Roberts said. "We're going to enforce a violation.
"If someone says, 'I'm dealing with a death,' we're going to be reasonable and give them a 30-day extension," he said. "But $1,475, that's a lot of months mourning - not to be insensitive."
Roberts noted that every notice sent to Tubic had clearly written instructions on how to contest the fines.
Roberts said inspectors were not aware of Tubic's mental health issues. When contacted by the P.I. Team before the foreclosure, city officials appeared split over how to handle the case.
"If you're telling me we had a mentally anguished individual and that inspectors made no attempts to get at that, that can be considered," Roberts told P.I. "There will have to be some serious evidence. But if we were . . . deaf to that point, I would be willing to reconsider some of those fees."
Not much left to do
Don Schaewe, supervisor of the city's nuisance section, said he recently spoke with Tubic and that Tubic "provided a whole lot of excuses as to why he didn't comply."
"At this point," Schaewe said. "There's really not too much that would allow us to reverse those charges."
A court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 11. If the city retains ownership of the house, Tubic can remain there as a renter until the house is sold, said Andrea Rowe Richards, spokeswoman for the Department of City Development. After that, the new homeowners can decide if they want to continue renting out the house.
Tubic said he set aside $2,600 in an escrow account "to protect the estate in case I die" but didn't want to use it to pay for the parking violation.
Judge Sankovitz called the case a shame and said it demonstrates the need for judges to have authority to appoint attorneys for people involved in civil litigation.
"If you were a criminal, we'd take care of the whole problem for you, get you an attorney," he said. "But if you're involved in civil litigation - in jeopardy of losing your house or your family . . . what we do is make you go out and find your own attorney.
"If we gave people the help they needed near the beginning of their problem, their problems wouldn't snowball the way they do."