In the late afternoon light of his Ketchum office, a man unfolded a cease-and-desist order on his desk.
“You and any occupants of the property are commanded to cease and desist all use of the property for residential purposes,” the letter read. “Failure to adhere to this … will result in legal action being taken against you.”
The man — who requested that his name not be published — is among almost two dozen property owners and tenants the city said it discovered living in light-industrial spaces without proper permitting.
“It was jaw-dropping to open the letter,” he said. “That you’re going to be evicted on Oct. 1 if you don’t comply? It would have been much less stressful if someone had come to talk to me first.”
If unable to obtain proper permitting, he could face a $1,000 fine and imprisonment. Getting through the Ketchum bureaucratic process is a multiweek ordeal, he said, and many affected by the orders will need to hire an architect and go before the Planning & Zoning Commission.
“The possibility [of eviction] is still out there,” he said.
As reported by city administrators, at least 22 cease-and-desist letters were issued in August to property owners in Ketchum’s light-industrial area, which is bounded by Saddle Road to the west and state Highway 75 to the east. Several other properties in the area were under investigation, Assistant City Administrator Lisa Enourato said.
Despite its lighter foot traffic, the light-industrial area has received growing scrutiny — and complaints — from local business owners and residents. The top concern is unsafe living setups, Enourato said.
“If a space is being used for sleeping and living, there are numerous fire and life-safety measures that must be in place to ensure the safety of the resident,” she said.
The cease-and-desist notices, authored by Nampa law firm White Peterson, ordered all property owners to correct violations discovered in earlier fire inspections and either obtain conditional-use permits or immediately stop using their spaces for residential purposes. All recipients can appeal the accusations, the notices said.
One cease-and-desist order that the man who asked not to be identified knew of, was issued to someone living in a ground-floor unit, a setup prohibited by Ketchum code to preserve local manufacturing. Another he heard about resulted from an employee sleeping in a warehouse-type building once a week.
The mayor confirmed the hearsay.
“We’ve had a couple situations where someone doesn’t live there, but there’s a bed made up, and from time to time [property owners] let their friends crash there,” Mayor Neil Bradshaw said in an interview.
All cease-and-desist recipients must sign an agreement that they’ll no longer use their space for residential use. Even if the pact is broken, the city won’t be held liable in case of a deadly fire, Bradshaw said.
He cited a disastrous Oakland, California., fire that broke out in the Ghost Ship Warehouse in 2016, killing 36 people. The space was approved only for light-industrial purposes but had been illegally converted to an artist collective.
“The government knew about [the Ghost Ship] and turned a blind eye — and were ultimately held liable,” he said. “When we’re informed of someone living in a dangerous situation, we can’t just turn the other cheek.
“It’s a tough decision, to take a hard stance on this, but any other position on illegal living in the L.I. is frankly indefensible.”