It's a sign of how bad the situation with squatters has become in Irma Hall's neighborhood that twice in recent months a house near hers caught fire and both times people not authorized to live there fled amid the blaze.

Worried that these squatters might harm her children, she and her husband call the police "all the time" to report people living in the otherwise vacant house on 20th Street downtown. But the squatters keep coming back.

"There's only so much they (Bakersfield police) can do," she said.

A new local business aims to address the problem by giving police information about who, if anyone, has proper authorization to occupy a given residence.

Squatters Protection Act, launched recently by Bakersfield Realtor David Knoeb, allows property owners to register their homes with local law enforcement. That way, if a squatter is found on the premises, police can quickly access a property and quickly determine whether anyone inside is trespassing.

Knoeb, former president of the Bakersfield Association of Realtors, said he came up with the idea after spending seven months trying to get a squatter to leave a property he was dealing with. He said removing squatters typically takes at least two months and can cost many thousands of dollars in legal fees, physical damage and lost rent.

FILLING IN BLANKS

The main problem, he said, is that police officers called to follow up on a report of squatters don't know whether the person they talk with at the property is a legitimate tenant. Unlike with the Department of Motor Vehicles, he said, police have no simple database of ownership information to consult.

"There's a lot of gray areas in there that law enforcement just don't understand — who the legal owner is and if there's a legal contract between the owner and the squatter," he said.

But with SPA, he said, property owners pay a registration fee of between about $70 and $90 per residence per year. After using SPA's smartphone app to file the information with the company, customers get their property on a list that's easily accessible by police.

Next time a squatter shows up, and someone reports it, the unauthorized occupant can be told to leave or be charged with trespassing.

‘ANOTHER TOOL’

Bakersfield Deputy City Attorney Richard Iger had never heard of anything like SPA, but after working with Knoeb for more than a year to come up with a workable system, he said, the product looks like it could help.

Successfully removing the squatter will still ultimately come down to Bakersfield Police Department officers doing good investigative work on the scene, he said. But now officers have "another tool" in their toolbox.

Officers would otherwise have to rely on official property records, Iger said. "The only difference is that we have a contact number to go along with (the name of) the property owner," he said.

Squatters occasionally do present challenges to local property owners, said Scott Tobias, manager-broker of Century 21 Jordan-Link & Co. in Bakersfield. But it's more a problem for rental property managers than single-family homebuyers.

‘NOTHING WORSE’

That said, he noted Knoeb's app is of sufficient interest that a meeting has been scheduled to present the service Monday afternoon to members of BAR.

"There's nothing worse than going to show a property, or somebody closes escrow, and somebody's living there," Tobias said. "Then you have to figure out how to get them out."

Ian Sharples, a representative of the local landlords organization Income Property Association of Kern, said squatters aren't a huge problem in Bakersfield. But he said it does happen.

Knoeb's business, he asserted, "could be useful under the right circumstances."

The service is not intended for regular evictions, Knoeb said. He emphasized that it would be wrong for a landlord to use SPA to try to force a tenant off a property for non-payment of rent.

But for the right client trying to keep out unauthorized residents, he said, the product can be a money-saver.

"Thousands of homeowners spend millions of dollars every year to remove squatters and trespassers," he said. "I'm just trying to help them reduce their costs."

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

(8) comments

She Dee

I would think the better idea would be that the property owner on record would be REQUIRED BY LAW to either occupy the residence themselves or have it rented out to someone....thus avoiding this problem altogether! No reason for houses to sit vacant for so long. The county needs to start seizing properties that have been unoccupied for over one year. Simple.

Django

This house had been condemned and boarded up for a few years, Squatters got through the boards. It was a rental for decades. That’s what it was originally built for.

ReefRanger

She Dee, that's a good suggestion, but in some cases is not workable. If a property is (or has gone through probate, and there is a claim on the property, or if there is another legal injunction against the property, sometimes those issues can take years to iron out, and usually the court will issue that no one can reside in or take possession of the property until a legal outcome has been attained. It is my understanding that the house on 20th street had been condemned and abansoned. If the city or county condemned it, the owners abandoned it or refused to pay whatever debts they owed on it, and there is no legal arbitration ongoing, then the city or county should either fix whatever problems they condemned it for and sell it, or bulldoze it. Bakersfield has too many neighborhood eyesores and rat traps around anyway.

Stephen

It's so sad that a once beautiful craftsman style house from the early 20th Century has been turned into a shamble. Like many other historic houses in Bakersfield that, while code enforcement dithers literally for years, once sound livable houses are damaged and destroyed beyond practical repair by people whose irresponsible behavior is tolerated.


The elephant in the room is the law. Currently, the law is more focused on protecting the rights of unlawfully behaving squatters, vagrants and others less deserving of its protection than those of their victims.


I hope city legal staff is actively studying how other communities more successful at dealing with the damaging and costly results from tolerating badly and foolishly behaving people. Our laws currently are deficient in addressing the problem with solutions in favor of the more deserving and in favor of the safety of the community at large and our quality of life.

Django

This house was a multi apartment rental since it was built. It had been on the verge of falling down for years and was finally condemned by the city. After two fires, it needs to be demolished.

ReefRanger

Don't expect any help from lawmakers in Sacramento on that front. They don't give a rat's big toe about the rights of CA citizens or property owners. All they care about is virtue signaling to the tired, poor, downtrodden (most of whom got that way by their own bad life choices), and illegals.

Tam Daras

Last week, I saw a young couple on the front porch of this structure. I told them it was unsafe to enter. The woman said they had lived there before it was condemned and wanted to take a look. I replied that if they were there in ten minutes the police would be called. They left. There were clothes and trash all over the burned stairs. The property owner should be notified if possible. The building is a hazard and should be demolished by the city.

ISpy

Hopefully it would be more than *wrong* for a landlord to misuse the app to kick a tenant out. It needs to be made against the law, and with fraud-related penalties.Other than that, this service sounds pretty good.

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