Property Rights

Locals Drive Out Neighborhood Nuisance; "System" Gets Credit


Galaxy Caregivers, 7561 Melrose Ave., with empty storefront next door.

Under managing editor Jill Stewart, the LA Weekly does unapologetically conservative reporting on NIMBY issues that is refreshing in the marrow-rotten Los Angeles print media. 

While I am no fan of the freebie's fact-poor and hysterical coverage of the pot dispensary issue – said issue being that, as you can see to the left and in another picture here, pot dispensaries continue to do business while every other type of private enterprise continues to fail or leave the county – the Weekly's Chestertonian attitude toward neighborhoods can make for some interesting stories. 

In Karen Jordan's piece "Fighting Squatters, South L.A.-Style, " an adult male and female with three young children rent a house in a nice part of Inglewood, quickly go deadbeat on the rent, are after considerable effort evicted from that building, and subsequently squat in a vacant building next door, owned by GMAC. The squatters eventually bring in tenants of their own and make themselves unpopular enough that neighbors band together to force the property owner to take action. 

The story, as several leading characters note, is about the societal damage done when lenders – with the enthusiastic support of federal, state and local governments – drag out the process of taking control of and selling their REO property at current market prices. GMAC, the lending arm of General Motors, was bailed out with $17.2 billion of your money by the George W. Bush administration, despite abundant evidence at the time that bankruptcy would have been a superior option. The federal government remains a large stakeholder in GMAC, which never repaid its TARP "investment." Now GMAC is called Ally Financial, and despite the billions of taxpayer dollars the company has disappeared, it continues to fail; its residential mortgage arm is struggling to avoid the years-overdue bankruptcy

So how was GMAC as a property manager? 

When [landlord of 5301 Goldenwood Drive Norm] Pomeranz finally evicted the family in 2009, they simply moved into an empty home at [GMAC's] 5305 Goldenwood Drive.

Neighbors say Jones borrowed cutters from a worker in the neighborhood, which they believed he used to cut through a padlock on the door of 5305 Goldenwood. He moved in not only his family but also tenants, and soon turned the home into a noisy nuisance. "One person shouldn't be able to dominate 129 homes if we work together," notes Tony Gamble, president of the Heights at Ladera Homeowners Association.

The article is not very compelling on what squatter Robert Jones' public offenses were. Apparently he had a car on blocks in his driveway and his family "came alive" at night. Jones is also said to have struck up conversations with neighborhood women, one of whom is unavailable for comment and presumed scared. 

5305 Goldenwood Drive, with 5301 Goldenwood Drive next door, prove that our nation is so rich even the homeless squat in places that would be considered paradises on any other planet.

Still, the Weekly's taste for police-state solutions is such that you have to read the article carefully to realize how the problem was resolved: A group of neighbors, under the aegis of a homeowners association and a neighborhood watch, alerted the property owner (GMAC seems to have unloaded the property at some point; the article is not clear on this point), who eventually threw the squatters out:

But as neighbors began to share information, "We started seeing the power we could achieve as a group," Gamble says.

Andrew Schlegel, executive vice president of finance at Merit Property Management, which manages the Heights at Ladera Homeowners Association, says Merit does its best to keep up with the homeowners in each community it manages — more than 300 statewide — but can do only so much. Squatters are part of a larger issue not limited to South Los Angeles, he says.

"It's really just a small byproduct of a bigger problem — which is banks failing to take action on a timely basis, dealing with their collateral" and instead leaving foreclosed homes empty for weeks, months or perhaps longer, Schlegel says.

Although neither government nor police played a role in solving this problem, spokespeople for both are consulted, and a Los Angeles Police Department lieutenant is given space to call for new state laws making squatting a felony and a police database of property owners' names. 

Worse still, the article acknowledges that Jones had – as is typically the case with a professional deadbeat – great expertise in working the very mechanisms of government the Weekly wants to see more of. (He offered to sell neighbors advice on getting out of foreclosure and "tried to wrest control of the house from the actual owner.") But Jordan insists on characterizing the neighbors' victory as a non-private victory: 

"He worked the system," Gamble says of Jones. "He had time to work it, and he worked it for a long time. But eventually the system caught up with him."

Now homeowners associations are nests of tiny Napoleons who love to pretend they are part of the public "system," but with this phrasing Gamble both overstates his group's authority and underrates its excellent work. The system didn't do anything. Jones' neighbors got sick of his antics, and the owner of the property whose quiet enjoyment Jones was stealing finally dealt with the problem through peaceful means. The Weekly is right to celebrate that, but the paper should be clear on what it is celebrating. 

NEXT: "Shut Up. You Don't Get a Lawyer!": The Defense Authorization Act Guts Civil Liberties

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  1. Apparently he had a car on blocks in his driveway and his family “came alive” at night.

    I can see how people might be a little nervous about a family of vampires on the block.

    1. Poor trash vampires, no less.

  2. The old man was a deadbeat and a masher, eh? Did these squatters have utlities in their new home? How does squatting work when you’re not just overstaying your welcome in your rental but breaking and entering and staying in an entirely new place?

    1. I was wondering that, too.

      There are all kinds of legal protections for renters to prevent eviction. But this wasn’t evicting a renter. It should have been a very straightforward criminal trespass: one warning, and then an arrest.

      Where the fuck was GMAC and the local po-po?

      1. It’s INGLEWOOD, man, home of Roosevelt Dorn.

      2. The property is obviously not valuable enough for GMAC’s broke asses to give a fuck. Making the homeowner’s association kind of out of place.

  3. Awesome. This is walking distance from my office.

  4. Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines, and radios, and telephones, and lawnmowers, throw them into darkness for a few hours, and then sit back and watch the pattern… They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find. And it’s themselves. All we need do is sit back and watch.

  5. Congressional Republicans who support this are going to be kicking themselves when Democratic administrations use the provision to detain Christian militia terrorists (and Red State voters) instead of using it exclusively againt Muslims.

    1. Obviously not for this post but a reply in a previous post, so feel free to ignore it in both places.

  6. All somebody would’ve had to do is told the LAPD that the squatters had drugs on the property. And the SWAT team would’ve showed up to drag them off the property, children and all. Unfortunately, they’d probably have busted down the wrong door and shot somebody’s dog.

  7. Why the hell isn’t squatting a felony already? It should be considered a shoot-and-forget felony.

    1. Trespassing is only an enforceable crime after the owner has asked you to leave. Squatting precedent is encouragement for property owners to actually take care of their property, so they don’t risk losing it.

      1. Actually, even then its a gargantuan and costly effort. Simply telling the cops someone is trespassing (in the absence of an order for the property that is issued by the court and posted by the Sheriff) isn’t usually sufficient. Even for squatters. And, that can create additional liability for the property owner and/or their agent. This is why they often don’t get involved.

        Trouble is, under current law, squatters and trespassers have essentially the same protections as tenants and adversarial owners facing dispossession.

        Clearly this is not as it *should* be, since only someone with a genuine claim, even if that claim is under dispute, should be able to use the courts to defend an adverse possession.

        This is one area where property rights need strengthening for the benefit of rightful owners.

        Just to get a court to hear a case about squatting, issue an eviction order, get the Sheriff to post it, and then to enforce it, is a 60 day process with a cost (in Los Angeles County), of several thousand dollars. This includes attorney’s fees, court fees, service of process fees, and Sheriff’s fees for posting notices, securing the property, and enforcing an order.

  8. What hill happen to all the vacant, excess, overpriced housing accumulation if people don’t squat in it? Because I think there is a high probability that the absent “owners”, rather than admitting that the property is not worth shit, will just let it sit forever until it literally rots Detroit style, and no one will bother to find the resources to deal with that hazardous problem. I have answered my own question.

    1. You sure have. This is exactly what they’ll do while everyone lobbies for more measures that will cause another housing bubble. Instead of just cutting losses and selling off their assets below market value, they’re willing to wait a decade or two to see if housing prices go through the fucking roof again.

      1. And collect the insurance proceeds. Believe me, much of this type of property (less in CA than in places like Detroit), has so much liability and “carrying costs” (property taxes, utility connection fees and penalties, etc) that it would often be cheaper to demolish an abandoned property than to maintain it, or even to rehabilitate to the point where it could be put on the market.

        So when you see entire blocks “missing”, this is often what has happened. Some property owners have done the math and just destroyed the property rather than submit to ever-increasing costs accruing to it.

      2. And collect the insurance proceeds. Believe me, much of this type of property (less in CA than in places like Detroit), has so much liability and “carrying costs” (property taxes, utility connection fees and penalties, etc) that it would often be cheaper to demolish an abandoned property than to maintain it, or even to rehabilitate to the point where it could be put on the market.

        So when you see entire blocks “missing”, this is often what has happened. Some property owners have done the math and just destroyed the property rather than submit to ever-increasing costs accruing to it.

    2. If you go into the poor section of a city you can see this already, it’s just unusual that foreclosures have been coming into nicer neighborhoods.

      Even in hyped and desirable Houston you can walk across the street from Downtown into the Third Ward and see. some. shit.

  9. I’m waiting for the first big bank to have a used-car dealer like sale where you can take home any of their distressed properties for whatever you’re willing to pay them.

    I cannot believe that we have a system where it is preferable for banks to hold on to should-be-foreclosed-on properties until the heat death of the universe simply because the act of admitting the property is worth 20% of the loan will destroy the world.

    Every second that goes by when they don’t accept the new reality is just making it all the worse.

    1. It’ll take senior management at the banks. Nobody below that will act for fear of getting fired.

    2. Right on the courthouse steps! You can already do this in many places, including Detroit. If you wanted to…question is, why in the hell would you want to? Nobody wants to own a piece of this blight, this Mad Max landscape. And they won’t for a long time if ever.

    3. Its even worse than that, it some places. Some of these properties have no value at all, because they are encumbered by so much back tax and penalties from “the authorities” , which eventually will take possession by default.

  10. “When questioned about his actions, Jones replied cryptically ‘Officer, am I free to gambol about fields and foreclosed properties?’, then strutted about the living room in what he termed a ‘ghost dance.'”

  11. A true triumph of real world libertarianism- the community banding together to eject the unwanted Negros, who threaten our women and way of life.

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