Vacant foreclosed homes have been the source of an explosion of crime-related problems in Vallejo, which doesn't have the money or manpower to control it. But now the city has a way to make the property owners accountable.
The city of Vallejo says police have responded to one such foreclosed home numerous times. Police say they've removed squatters there at least five times. Neighbors say, for the past year, a woman keeps breaking in and illegally renting the rooms out.
"Oh yeah, she thinks that's her place," Diane Merrick said.
The city says it's dealing with at least six other similar situations. Merrick says she and a neighbor sued the bank which owns the foreclosed home, but the cases were dismissed both times.
"The health inspectors been in there, the building inspectors been in there, everybody's been in there, but due to the laws being laws being what they are, it's a long difficult process," she said.
But the passing of a new ordinance forces the banks to register their foreclosed homes and maintain them or face fines and penalties.
"And eventually we will abate the nuisances and then lien the property," Vallejo Code Enforcement Manager Nimat Shakoor-Grantham said.
Shakoor-Grantham says the ordinance empowers the city, which has more than 1,000 foreclosed homes with nearly half receiving nuisance complaints.
"We've had abandoned properties burned down by squatters, we've had people break into abandoned properties and rip out all the copper, all the fixtures," she said.
The law is already being used in Benicia, Fairfield and Oakland. It takes a lot of weight off the shoulders of the city's three code enforcement officers and it also gives the banks more incentive to sell the homes more quickly.