Is Homeowner Violating Law or Upholding His Faith?

By Fuller, James | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 12, 2004 | Go to article overview

Is Homeowner Violating Law or Upholding His Faith?


Fuller, James, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: James Fuller Daily Herald Staff Writer

When it's not pouring, the wooden planks securing the tarp on Richard Johnson's brown-shingled roof block the destructive forces of wind and rain from penetrating.

But not always. Water seeps in, rotting the inside of an otherwise typical Prospect Heights home on the 1000 block of Drake Terrace.

Johnson can't stop it.

A court order allows him to enter but not live in his home. He can empty the buckets collecting the water dribbling from the ceiling, but not repair it.

Johnson has no permit to fix his home. He refuses to get one. And the signs outside explain why.

"Private property. Keep out." The warnings stand guard in the front yard, on the back fence and the front door.

The two words "private property" are what Johnson says are behind a legal battle with the city that stretches back to last October.

"They are trying to tell me it's against the law for me to fix up my home," he said. "It's understood since caveman days that individual man has the right to put a roof over his head."

It's not quite that simple, according to the city.

Local law requires permits for the home improvements. Construction also is prohibited on Sundays, a day Johnson and his colleagues in the Covenant Ministry would often work on the home. And, once the city told Johnson he had to stop because he didn't have a permit, he kept working on the home anyway, city officials said.

Now a civil court judge will decide what happens next. The next trial date is this July.

At that date, Johnson, as he has at all the other court dates, will defend his own case. He is not a lawyer but spends most of his time preparing a defense.

"My life is consumed by it," Johnson said.

He'll argue that Prospect Heights' building codes do not apply to private property. He'll say there is no regulated commerce involved in his home improvements because it is all unpaid, volunteer labor. …

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