Condemnation specialist saves taxpayers half-million dollars

Friday, May 19, 2017

If there is a specialist for everything, the Civil Division of our office has one for condemnations in road construction projects.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Louis Robards did about 60 of these types of trials around Minnesota when he was with Minnesota Attorney-General's Office. That experience benefited the county last month when a civil jury took less than two hours to award the owners of a rundown motel $810,000, nearly half a million dollars less than they were seeking.

"It was a very old motel and it was in very poor condition," said Robards, who has been with the County Attorney’s Office since 2006.

The county took possession of the Budget Inn, owned by Sandip and Jagruti Bahkta, on Aug. 31, 2012, paying them $755,000, which was about the assessed value. By October of that year, the Hennepin County Public Works Department had knocked it down to make road improvements for better safety along Bottineau Boulevard near 63rd Street in Brooklyn Park.

The Bahktas believed their motel was worth much more and asked for $1.3 million through a Commissioners' hearing, which the county won. The owners appealed that decision, which is why the case went to a jury. Before the trial started, Hennepin County made a final, higher offer of $900,000, but it was rejected.

So Robards argued the case through 200 photos of the motel. It was up to the jury to decide the value of the demolished building and what would it cost the Bahktas to buy a comparable motel.

"The real issue of the case," Robards said "was which motel the Budget Inn should be compared to,”

The Bahktas attorney tried to show the jury that the replacement cost to buy a similar motel would be $1.3 million. His only witness, an appraiser who worked with Knight Inns based out of New Jersey, started by showing $3 million motels near Canterbury Downs in Shakopee. Eventually, he settled on a motel not far from the demolished one in Brooklyn Park and he came up with the $1.3 million value.

Robards meticulously showed the jury photos taken by the county's Public Works Division in Medina of the Bahktas motel and how they contrasted with the better motel up the road. Robards showed the jury pictures of a garage with mold. He showed them photos of the insulation in the walls, which was wadded up newspapers from the 1950s, and beds with drug paraphernalia between the mattresses and a mound of dirt on the floor.

"We were able to contrast the owners' outdated motel with the upscale motels used by the owners' appraiser," Robards said.

The jury returned with an award to the Bahktas of $810,000, which was nearly $100,000 less than Hennepin County's final offer and approximately $500,000 less than the Bahktas were seeking.

One of Robard’s colleagues commented that “it is almost impossible to get a verdict on your number because it’s the government against a private landowner.”

But when you have a specialist, you can come close.