HARVARD – The McHenry County Department of Health is taking a homeowner to court as part of ongoing efforts to clean up a Robin Road property near Harvard that has been the source of repeated complaints.
Robin Road is a place where, in most cases, residents keep their properties tidy.
Here, on this short stretch of road tucked between Routes 23 and 14,
2 miles south of downtown Harvard, the landscaping is tight – even though the county has no high grass ordinance.
The garbage makes it to the garbage bins. There’s a clear path to the front door.
Then there’s the home of Thomas Jaszczak, the man who the McHenry County Department of Health ordered to appear in court this month to try to get him to clear piles of garbage and debris stacked around his property – a place neighbors have considered an eyesore for years.
“We get a lot of garbage complaints every year,” said Patricia Nomm, director of environmental health with the McHenry County Department of Health. “It’s unusual to have one with this volume on a single residential property like that.”
On Oct. 6, a health department investigator delivered a “final notice of violation” to Jaszczak’s home, where two previous violations hung on his doorknob in plastic bags for weeks.
Jaszczak has been summoned to McHenry County court to address the violations brought against him.
Those violations include allowing an infestation of vermin in a structure, accumulation of rubbish and refuse on the property, and failing to eradicate noxious weeds within
150 feet of the property line, according to records obtained by the Northwest Herald.
Residents on Robin Road were not willing to share their names and stories with the Northwest Herald. Many of them said they were afraid and concerned for their safety.
The Northwest Herald could not reach Jaszczak for this story. Knocks on his door and notes left in plain sight on his property went unanswered.
Linda Pieczynski, a former state prosecutor and building code expert, said it appears McHenry County officials are at the beginning of a long journey to clear the garbage from Robin Road.
“It could take years to resolve,” she said.
‘Property has gotten worse’
On July 5, 2016, the McHenry County Department of Health received a complaint about a Harvard home surrounded with an unruly accumulation of refuse and rubbish.
The next day, the investigator spoke with the neighbor who filed the complaint, a longtime resident who had been dealing with stomach-turning sights and smells of his neighbor for years, documents show.
“Spoke with complainant,” the investigator logged in his report. “Property has gotten worse.”
Two days later, the department sent an investigator to the home in the 21000 block of Robin Road.
There, he found buckets, plants, tarps and recyclables littering the driveway. A car parked there appeared in working condition and had a current license plate.
The investigator knocked at the door, but there was no answer. On the porch, he noticed a pile of rubbish and personal items.
With no one home, the investigator posted a notice of inspection to the front door.
On July 10, the investigator returned to the home. Again, he knocked, and again, no one answered, records show.
On the property, the investigator counted 15 5-gallon buckets filled with “stagnant water” littered through the walk path and driveway. Construction debris and garbage littered the front yard and driveway. Logging the items, the investigator found cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, plastic tarps and garbage bags containing refuse.
“Noxious weeds were observed throughout property,” he wrote, “including giant ragweed.”
The investigator posted another notice to the door, listing alleged violations as “accumulation of waste” and “mosquito harborage.”
On Sept. 12, the McHenry County Department of Health mailed a violation to the owner of the home, Jaszczak.
The notice included a summary of the investigator’s observations: “Accumulations of litter observed in the form of general construction debris, rubbish and garbage on front walk and in driveway. Multiple buckets with stagnant water. Presence of noxious weeds on the property.”
Health department officials ordered Jaszczak to remove and properly dispose of any litter; remove or empty containers that hold water; and eradicate all noxious weeds within 150 feet of any property line.
By Oct. 4, Jaszczak had not taken any of those measures. On Oct. 6, the health department investigator delivered a final notice of violation and a court summons.
Jaszczak is due to appear in court Nov. 13.
Although the McHenry County Department of Health inspected the Robin Road property multiple times and served Jaszczak numerous violations – including a final notice – the department’s authority is limited.
“We don’t have the ability just to send someone out there automatically and correct it,” Nomm said.
If Jaszczak appears in court, he could plead guilty to the violations brought against him and face a fine. A judge could strike a deal with him to clean up the property over a certain period of time.
If Jaszczak chooses not to show up to court, a judge can do nothing but summon him to court. If he doesn’t respond to the summons, a warrant can be issued for his arrest.
All the while, the property remains blighted.
“Even fines are not enough motivation,” Pieczynski said.
In 2016, the McHenry County Department of Health received 662 complaints for public health nuisances. Of those, 148 complaints described buildings with unsanitary conditions. In most cases, Nomm said, residents are cooperative and clean up their property.
In some instances, residents are incapable, physically or mentally, to help themselves, Nomm said.
“In severe cases,” Nomm said, “we can request a court order to go on the property and get a contractor to clean up.”
Health department investigators try to contact residents about violations in person to see whether there are any visible signs of distress or mental health struggles, Nomm said. If a resident appears mentally unfit, a court can request a mental health evaluation to determine whether an intervention is needed to clean up the property.
In any case, the health department aims to get residents the help they need.
“We try to link them with social service agencies,” Nomm said. “Sometimes, they’re unable to do it.”
Some residents are reluctant to ask for help until it’s too late.
“In DuPage, I had a woman die,” Pieczynski said. “She suffered some kind of attack. By the time the firefighters cut through the debris, she died. This can be a matter of life and death.”