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Foreclosure on squat house proceeding

NATHAN GILLES
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO

After numerous neighbors filed complaints with the city, Development Services bureau hired a contractor to clean-up the junk and garbage-filled backyard of a house at 3728 N.E. 115th Ave. in Parkrose. Alleged squatters occupy the home.
Mid-county Memo photo/Tim Curran
In December, the Memo reported squatters had been illegally occupying a house at 3728 N.E. 115th Ave. in Parkrose (“Unlawful occupants squat in Parkrose neighborhood”, December 2013). Following that article, Wells Fargo Bank, which holds the mortgage, has started the foreclosure process on the property.

Tom Unger, spokesman for Wells Fargo, told the Memo on Jan. 9 the bank obtained and filed a final order of foreclosure with the Multnomah County Court for the Northeast 115th Ave. house. It's now up to the court to file the writ of execution with the Multnomah County Sheriff's office to carry out the foreclosure. The house then can go up for sale. At that point, evicting the squatters will be the responsibility of the property's new owners.

“We have done everything we can; it's now in the hands of the county courts,” said Unger about the state of the property.

However, at least one neighbor of the Northeast 115th Ave. home wished the bank had acted sooner.

“During this whole process, Wells Fargo was not a good neighbor,” said Parkrose resident and neighbor of 3728 N.E. 115th Ave., Ron Van Cleave.

Van Cleave says his beef with Wells Fargo is that the bank took years to put the house into foreclosure.

The previous owner of the house on Northeast 115th Avenue, Steven Doggett, died in September 2011. Since then, Portland Police Officer Joshua Buller says the house has been in a kind of legal limbo, something not uncommon he says. “I've seen these houses go on for three years plus,” Buller told the Memo in December. “I don't know why the banks drag their feet on it.”

According to Buller and Parkrose neighbors, following Doggett's death, Doggett's parents handed the property over to Wells Fargo. However, Van Cleave says it was not until the neighbors became concerned about illegal activity at the house and the Memo published a story on the squatters that the bank responded.

“The guy that lived across the street, Steven Doggett, he died. He died there in September 2011,” said Van Cleave. “In other words, Wells Fargo let that house sit empty for 29 months before they did anything about that house. And I don't think that's being a good neighbor.”

According to police and neighbors, the current batch of squatters at Northeast 115th Avenue moved into the house in July 2012. Neighbors, including Van Cleave, say they have seen people coming and going from the house at all hours of the night and that they suspect drugs are being sold out of the house. In an earlier interview with the Memo, Buller said he did not dispute the neighbors' claims.

The current squatters at Northeast 115th Avenue do not have drug convictions or charges against them listed in Multnomah County, and allegations against them remain anecdotal.

However, the house has been tied to an earlier drug arrest, that of 53-year-old John Joseph Skaggs, a multiple felon, who was arrested in fall 2012 for selling and possessing heroin. Skaggs is currently in prison serving a three-year sentence for his crime.

The house at Northeast 115th Avenue is not the only house that Parkrose residents suspect has been occupied by squatters.

At the January meeting of the Parkrose Neighborhood Association, neighbors brought up their concerns about several other vacant houses in the neighborhood. They are as follows: 3645 N.E. 114th Ave., 3635 N.E. 114th Ave. and 3801 N.E. 113th Ave.

The Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS), which oversees nuisance complaints against houses, had sent the association an e-mail updating its members on the status of the homes. Association members read it at the meeting. Representatives from BDS were not present for the meeting.

Because the city does not keep a comprehensive database on vacant homes, determining whether a house is being legally occupied or not means comparing nuisance complaints collected by BDS against what the police know.

Ed Marihart, Inspector Supervisor for Portland's Development Services bureau, said all four houses on the list have had nuisance complaints filed against them. These complaints include things like garbage piling up in the front and back yards. Whether houses were legally occupied or not, he said that was not something his bureau tracks. The police, however, do.

Both 3645 N.E. 114th Ave. and 3801 N.E. 113th Ave. had at one time had squatters in them but have since been boarded up by the police, said Buller. Buller oversees this process. He said 3645 N.E. 114th Ave. has been tied to an alleged rental fraud that the current squatters of 3728 N.E. 115th Ave. told the Memo back in December they were the victims of.

Buller said 3635 N.E. 114th Ave. is vacant but has not been occupied by squatters.

Marihart also said the bureau is currently interested in another home, which has had nuisance complaints filed against it. Inspectors believe it to be vacant. The house is 10923 N.E. Fremont St. Marihart said his bureau is currently pursuing a warrant on the property and hope to clean it up when the warrant is approved by Multnomah County.

Both Marihart and Buller estimate the number of vacant Portland houses stuck in a legal limbo similar to the house at N.E. 115th Avenue could be in the hundreds.

“There are so many of these houses that are in this limbo area, where they're going through the foreclosure process but haven't been foreclosed or someone has died and they haven't properly done probate,” said Marihart.

Marihart said tracking these homes can be difficult and it is up to neighbors to bring the properties to his bureau's and the police's attention. Buller agrees.

“The way we get our information is when these situations arise and citizens call and say there's a vacant house and we think it's been burglarized and there are people living in it. That's how we get involved,” said Buller.

This is how and why 3728 N.E. 115th Ave. came to the attention of Marihart and Buller. Through Buller's recommendation, the house's neighbors have been filing nuisance complaints with BDS. The complaints include reports that the squatters were “using the backyard as [a] dumping area,” filling the backyard with garbage, as well as furniture and appliances, according to BDS records.

Development Services hired a contractor to clean up the back yard in the waning days of January. It took half a day to fill a trailer and clean up the mess in the backyard. This comes following a search warrant the bureau received from the county. Marihart said the bureau will place a lien on the property to cover the costs of the clean up. Van Cleave told the Memo he has seen the squatters moving their belongings off the property. “This kinda restores my faith in the system, in the city,” Van Cleave said as he watched the trailer fill with squatter detritus. “It took a while, but it looks like the bank is trying to be a good neighbor with what's happening.” He added, “And thanks to your story, it looks like the long nightmare might be over soon."



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