Absentee homeowner degrades neighborhood
Q: The home next door belongs to an absentee owner who allows the property to sit vacant and become increasingly dilapidated. Indigents occasionally break in to sleep and are known to use drugs on the premises.
I've made offers to buy the place, but the owner is not interested. Meanwhile, the property becomes ever more run down. It looks horrible on the outside, gives a "slummy" appearance to the neighborhood, and worse, has become a local breeding ground for roaches and mice. I've contacted the city, but they say there's nothing they can do if the owner pays his taxes. How can I deal with this seemingly hopeless situation?
A: People sometimes forget that rights are coupled with responsibilities, particularly when obligations are not codified in law. Accordingly, your thoughtless neighbor has a responsibility to you and the other owners on your street to maintain the general value and condition of the area, particularly with regard to general health and safety.
If the property has become a nesting place for vermin and a resting place for unsavory characters, the city health department or building safety department (however they are titled in your area) should initiate some enforcement actions. If they fail to demonstrate appropriate interest in the matter, there is an effective but little known method whereby to rattle their regulatory cages.
Begin by making an appointment to meet with your city council representative. Nothing is more disturbing to the complacency of lax civil servants than complaints issuing from the desks of elected officials. Explain the nature of the problem and the reluctance of bureaucratic agencies to enact remedial measures. Elected office holders routinely respond to such complaints, as this is a proven way to be well remembered at election time. In fact, many public officials have full-time ombudsmen whose job is to receive and respond to constituent concerns. One phone call from the office of your elected representative can stir a disinterested bureaucrat to surprising levels of regulatory action.
Q: My mother purchased a home that was listed as a multifamily residence. It was originally a single-family home, divided into a duplex, with a third unit that was actually a converted garage. We recently learned these changes were done without building permits, and this illegality was not disclosed by the sellers. Surprisingly, the county lists the home as a multifamily residence, while the city shows it as a single-family dwelling.
Now that my mother wants to refinance the property, she's concerned that the lack of permits may be a problem. How should she deal with this situation?
A: The fact that one municipality recognizes your mother's home as a multiunit property could be helpful but may not be conclusive. The alterations that were done definitely required permits, and the sellers should have disclosed the lack of permits, if that was truly the case. The fact that the county lists the property as "multifamily" may indicate that the alterations were in fact permitted. You should check the county records to resolve this uncertainty.
A refinance lender may or may not investigate the permit status. However, when your mother eventually resells the property, she will have to provide disclosure of outstanding violations to prospective buyers.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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