Orange County

Santa Ana Officials Turn to Legal Strategy to Deal With Abandoned Homes

Under receivership, a third party decides how to fix up the property, but the homeowner foots the bills

Santa Ana city officials are looking to use a legal strategy to deal with abandoned and rundown homes in Orange County, after neighbors have complained the properties attract criminal activity.

Officials are stepping up efforts to turn these properties around.

As a last resort in such situations, the city takes over the property under a legal option called "receivership" — to rehabilitate them and clean up the community.

Under receivership, a third party decides how to fix up the property.

The property isn't taken away from the homeowner but it is no longer their responsibility how it's handled.

Neighbors complain that one 1928 Orange County home once housed a family, but for the past five years has been home to criminals and squatters.

"We have squatter complaints, drugs, evidence of prostitution," said Alvaro Nunez, Santa Ana’s community preservation coordinator.

Neighbor Nick Estrada said he started calling police often after the 90-year-old owner seemed to give up on the McFadden property.

"People are coming in knowing that nobody lives in there, breaking in, breaking the windows," Estrada said. "It's all boarded up now."

After years of complaints and decay, city officials went to court asking that the house be put into receivership as a way to force the owner to clean it up or sell.

The process begins by red tagging a home.

With another Santa Ana home, officials have warned the owner and now may ask the court to take over.

On Wednesday, officials said they arrested a parolee who was living in the abandoned home.

"I think it's a very good idea, otherwise it's going to be a lot of vandalism, a lot of illegal activities going on around here," said neighbor Frank Tabari. "Which we don't want in the city."

The McFadden property is now in the hands of a receiver.

"They could decide that they can rehab the property, make the structural changes to make it habitable, or they can decide perhaps that we need to demo the property," Nunez said. "At this point we don't know."

NBC4 News tried to locate the property's owner but had no success. Whatever repairs are done — including demolition — will be billed to the owner, or become a lien on the property.

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