It was a shock for Isaac Ramirez when he recently stopped by a vacant Fresno home he was selling and discovered a man stepping out of the shower.
A shock, perhaps, but not a surprise for those in the real estate business, or police or homeowners in Fresno – and certainly not for Ramirez, who has encountered several such incidents as a real estate broker.
Often, those who enter a vacant home are simply the homeless, but they can be drug users or vandals. It’s a low-grade, vexing issue for residents that can drag down a neighborhood.
A sitting, vacant house is very appetizing for someone with no place to stay.
Kristy Henry, president of the Fresno Association of Realtors
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Getting a handle on the number of such incidents in the city is difficult because police do not always arrest or cite. If officers can’t prove it’s a case of breaking and entering, they may simply cite the occupants for trespassing, and Fresno police data don’t specify the type of trespassing crime committed, according to Lt. Mark Hudson.
If officers can’t establish a crime, the occupants may be sent on their way. Kristy Henry, president of the Fresno Association of Realtors, said it’s a widespread issue, but she also didn’t have hard numbers. She said such squatters go into homes throughout the city. It happens more in some areas, but she declined to say where.
That man in the shower that Ramirez encountered? He chose a common tactic when confronted.
“He said he was let in by someone else,” said Ramirez, who backed out of the home and called police. Officers got the man out of the residence.
Ramirez’s most recent squatting issue took place Tuesday at a home on El Monte Way near Ventura and Orange avenues in southeast Fresno. Ramirez had hired a contractor to do upgrade work on a home intended to become a rental.
He found the kitchen floor flooded and nearby drywall ruined. A stove was dragged from the kitchen to a backyard and ripped apart. There were at least three people who appeared to be living there who had brought in their belongings and even decorated, putting pictures on the walls. As he had done in the earlier incident, Ramirez called police. And as is often the case in such situations, things grew more confusing from there.
Ramirez said his unexpected occupants, a man and two women, told him that they were invited into the home by the contractor, who had hired them to do some of the work and allowed them to stay while construction was underway.
“I asked them to leave that night, but the next day, they were still there,” said Ramirez, who then called police Wednesday. Officers convinced the three to leave. They were not cited because police were unable to determine if they had been victimized by the absent contractor, who was not at the house when Ramirez and officers showed up.
Later in the day, Ramirez said the male occupant claimed to be a veteran with a housing voucher. Ramirez doesn’t know whether the contractor took advantage of the man to get the voucher or not.
The problems at the now-flooded, unoccupied home weren’t over, though.
“Random people began showing up,” he said. “It was like zombies.”
The neighbors told him that this was an ongoing problem. His rental was known as a party house.
Random people began showing up. It was like zombies.
Realtor Isaac Ramirez, describing a particularly vexxing problem with squatters
Now, Ramirez is thinking about selling. But he’s not sure he wants to put out a “for sale” sign. That’s another issue, he said, because it might turn into a “welcome” sign for more squatters.
Henry, of the Fresno Association of Realtors, agrees that Ramirez might consider passing on the sign. Henry said some sellers stick to listing a house just on the internet to reduce the risk of unwanted occupants.
“It’s a huge homeless issue,” she said. “People don’t have anywhere to go. A sitting, vacant house is very appetizing for someone with no place to stay.”
Protecting vacant homes
Home sellers should:
▪ Price their homes competitively to reduce the time they sit vacant.
▪ Visit the house daily if possible to be sure no one has taken up residence.
▪ Make sure doors and windows have good locks and are secured. The same goes for gates.
▪ Consider an alarm on the house so that police will be alerted to a break-in.
Source: Kristy Henry, president of the Fresno Association of Realtors; Sgt. Diana Trueba, a Problem Oriented Policing officer in the Central Fresno Policing District