House of horrors

House of horrors

Residents call cops as manager finally boards up magnet for vagrants

By Andre Coleman 09/04/2008

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Along-vacant Pasadena home near Villa Park that had been a source of citizen complaints for more than a decade was finally boarded up Friday.

The house on North Garfield Avenue, located next door to a nursery school, has been empty since 2006, when it was placed into receivership so that the elderly brother and sister living there would not lose the home, according to Vannia De La Cuba, field representative for Pasadena City Councilman Victor Gordo.

At that time, the house was in need of major repairs and bees had entered into a broken vent and formed a hive in the attic. Rodents and insects were also a major problem due to a large amount of cans, plastic containers and other recyclable materials that had not been washed or cleaned, according to a worker at the neighboring Pasadena Day Nursery.

“No one has been able to make headway with it,” said Betty Salas, executive director of the nursery, which cares for about 60 children five days a week.  “It has been ignored for the most part until the past four years. We have really young children here that were exposed to this,” Salas added.

The brother and sister were placed in a convalescent home but refused to allow repair work to be done. The sister died last year, but did not leave a will. However, her niece, who lives in Houston, Texas, is claiming ownership of the home because the brother did turn over his part of the home to her before being deemed unable to handle his affairs.

Once the house was empty, homeless people broke in and began living there. At one point, a squatter started paying the annual property taxes in a failed attempt to seize the property.
“I wish they had called us,” De La Cuba said of the siblings. “We worked very hard on this to help them keep the house. No one called our office. I had no idea it had gotten to that point. We were trying to help these people and find a way so that these people would not be taken advantage of.”

Realtor Irena Netchaev, who is acting on behalf of the niece, had the doors and windows nailed shut last week to help keep squatters from entering.

“It was boarded up and I don’t think anyone has access to it anymore,” Netchaev said. “The title is complicated and we are looking to put it on the market this week.”

Netchaev, who said there have been several inquiries about acquiring the property, said the house requires about $150,000 in repairs. Netchaev estimates the value of the two-story four-bedroom Craftsman home at $350,000.

On June 18 nearby residents filed a complaint with the city’s Code Enforcement Division, alleging that a number of homeless people were living there. Code compliance officers inspected the property Tuesday morning, but results of that inspection were not available by press time, according to city spokeswoman Ann Erdman. 

“It’s become a center for drug users and assorted trouble to the point where a teacher reportedly found a syringe on the playground,” said Jay Brida, whose 2-year-old son, Whitman, attends Pasadena Day Nursery. “Predictably, I feel, the cops have been useless because it’s in a fairly marginal neighborhood. But the new owners of the Garfield Court apartments are also trying — along with PDN — to get the city to do something about it,” he said.

Pasadena police spokesman Janet Pope-Givens was researching the situation and no facts on the case were immediately available.

The house may be representative of a growing problem in Pasadena involving absentee banks that have apparently turned their backs on properties foreclosed upon or abandoned in the current mortgage crisis.

“We are dealing with at least one in my district,” Gordo said. “And citywide we are beginning to see it. The sense we are getting is they are not willing to deal with the property. Rather, it is boarded up or getting the squatters out. So the neighbors and city staff have been trying to get the bank to be responsible.”

In the case Gordo mentions, a family broke into a bank-owned home and was using a generator for electricity. Since the subprime mortgage crisis, thousands of homes have been abandoned by owners who often do thousands of dollars of damage to the home before clearing out, sometimes leaving pets behind.

“I am glad the city did something,” said Salas. “The kids were seeing homeless people go in and out of a house that has no doors or windows, and weeds bigger than they are. That tells kids the world is not the beautiful place they thought it was.”

“An abandoned property next to a day care … they should be able to do something,” Brida said.

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