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Legal options

2010-06-30 15:31:59.795096+00 by Dan Lyke 10 comments

So, those of you who've been to my house have seen the situation: Generally pretty nice neighborhood, mixed houses, built from the 1940s on, although most people in our neighborhood have been here for decades; due to Prop 13 our little 768 square foot cottage could very well have the highest property taxes on the street. Our house and the one directly next to it are obviously the same design built at the same time, and we have pictures from when our road was dirt and these two houses were the only man made structures looking east.

The story is that the parents of the resident of the house next door bought it for him to get him out of the house. He probably suffers from some mental illness, in the two and a half years we've lived here we've seen him only a few times, he tries to avoid people. He had a truck when he moved in, but that's disappeared.

The house is a shambles. The shingles are curling, the paint is peeling, berry vines grow over the yard. Once a year contractors for the fire department come out and mow the place so it's not a fire hazard. Several of the windows are partly opened, and we've never seen them change position.

When we see strange people in the neighborhood we go engage them in conversation. One of those people was a process server looking for the him. Late last year the Petaluma Police knocked on our door saying they had a warrant for him and asking if we'd seen him.

A few months ago, PG&E put in "Smart Meters". This is relevant only because the meters got reset at zero, and we can read his from over the fence. It's been zero for a few months. The vines have grown over the front door. There's a possible path in and out along the far fence, but it looks like the only thing that'd provide access to is a window.

So, the question is: What legal mechanism do we start to solve this problem, and what department of the city is that? I've exchanged email with the fire department, and they just have it put on the property taxes. So presumably someone's still paying property taxes. We don't know if some civil judgment (the process server who came looking for him) escalated into a criminal complaint (the police who came looking for him) and he's now incarcerated, or if he's died in there, or if the house is abandoned, or if he's still living in there, coming and going through some means we can't see.

Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

[ related topics: Privacy Dan's Life Law Law Enforcement Real Estate ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2010-06-30 15:47:06.341001+00 by: other_todd

The city LEGALLY is not going to be able to do much if the taxes are not delinquent, unless the building can actually be condemned, but I'm a little surprised that they haven't tried to follow up with whoever's paying the taxes, especially if someone's been trying to serve a warrant. Around here, following up the tax records is Step One if the city is trying to skip-trace someone.

You could start yourself by seeing if you can get any joy from the Sonoma County searchable tax rolls: http://www.sonoma-county.org/tax/proptax_pay.htm although I'm not sure if that will lead to useful information. Barring that, I would try explaining the general situation to the local police, who should have a clear idea of what step to try next.

(I'm going to assume that you yourself have tried knocking on the door more than once and gotten no answer.)

#Comment Re: made: 2010-06-30 15:59:51.158989+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

Aha! Thanks, I hadn't gone and checked that in a while, it looks like though it had been paid when I checked when we moved in, it hasn't been paid since then. So, yeah, it's in arrears. Now we need to figure out how to either sneak in under our neighbor who's been eying it as a project house for his daughter, or how to help him get the place.

Thanks for the obvious kick in the pants.

And, yeah, the "how do we get it condemned" was really the next question, but if this can be done through taxes in arrears, so much the better.

Edit: Huh, it's not up on the 2010 Sonoma County tax auction site, despite having a $13,978.21 balance and no payments on the last two installments (the record doesn't show before that).

#Comment Re: made: 2010-06-30 16:03:04.179677+00 by: other_todd

Well, before "how do we get it condemned," I was thinking more along the lines of "How do you get someone to knock open the front door legally to see if the fellow is lying dead in there," to tell you the truth.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-06-30 16:03:43.860279+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, that's the other question. If the police were knocking on our door, we figured there were some basic threshold issues.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-06-30 17:03:21.779482+00 by: Larry Burton

I don't know how it works in your state or county but in both Lawrenceville, GA and Red Bank, TN the city or counties code enforcement have the authority to inspect a structure in such state of disrepair. Especially if someone is using it as their address of residence.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-07-01 13:59:54.618607+00 by: petronius

Maybe you should throw a rock through the window and then let the cops use that as a reason to enter the premises. A few years ago in Chicago we had a case where the owner of a small house dropped from sight. The neighbors assumed he had just left, and they kept the lawn cut and swept up the junk mail on the porch. Eventually the house came up at the tax auction and a speculator bought it. When he went down to the house and broke the lock he discovered the former owner dead in his easy chair, after mouldering for more than 2 years. The fire department had allegedly checked the place out at one point, but not very well.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-07-01 16:32:52.140949+00 by: TC

Usually there is a codes & standards department in most Cities (Your in Petaluma Proper right?) let's see ... hmm maybe here http://cityofpetaluma.net/pubworks/eng-city-standards.html you can usually find a few reasons to file a nuisance grievance (I received one of these when some of my tenants decided to move their furniture onto the front lawn) anyhow that will get the ball rolling but takes a while(they mail letters at first)

For more immediate response simply call the police and tell them you have not seen you neighbor for days and there is a strange odor coming from the home (the PD becomes obligated to investigate)

edging your other neighbor out on the abandoned house is more complicated but doable and is best told over a beer or three.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-07-01 17:37:08.801566+00 by: Dan Lyke

Called the police receptionist today, she said "let me see how we can deal with that". We'll see.

Also starting to keep closer track of tax status, to see about auction issues...

#Comment Re: made: 2010-07-01 17:48:36.223197+00 by: Dan Lyke

TC, those look like standards for city owned properties. Not, alas, something I can necessarily use for code enforcement (though it's another good source for "best practices"). And the lawn has been mowed for the past several years, once a year, by contractors for the Fire Department.

I think at this point, the main thing is to be aware of and in a financial position to do something when the house comes up for tax auction, which shouldn't be too long.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-07-02 16:46:55.941183+00 by: petronius

You might also start spreading those rumors about the curse on the house to the other neighbor....