City leaders set to support state bill aimed at removing squatters

Tonight the City Council will consider approving a resolution supporting a state bill aimed at removing squatters from foreclosed or abandoned homes.

At Councilmember Willie Rivera's request, staff looked into the bill and is recommending a resolution.

"Right now under existing law it is very, very difficult and time-consuming to remove a squatter out of your home," said Rivera.

The Great Recession resulted in a large number of people walking away from their mortgages and leaving their houses vacant.

Vacant houses became an issue throughout the state, as it would lead to eyesores in the neighborhood and squatters would take up residence in them.

While the number of vacant houses has definitely reduced in recent years, squatters occupying vacant structures is still a problem throughout the state.

"If we were looking at Bakersfield 5 to 6 years ago, you would've seen hundreds of squatters illegally residing in properties," said Rivera.

Even though the problem has diminished recently, organizations like the Bakersfield Association of Realtors say they are happy to have the City Council's support.

They say even though the foreclosure problem has decreased recently, having a low like this on the books will help the next time the market takes a turn for the worse.

"Plus, it's not just foreclosed homes where this is an issue. It could happen when a homeowner has a vacant home and is waiting for a renter or a short sale where a home is left unoccupied, squatters have been known to move in," said President of the Bakersfield Association of Realtors, Theresa Olson.

Under existing law, evicting squatters can take a minimum of 30 days and requires going to court.

Assembly Bill 1513 seeks to provide property owners with an additional tool to remove squatters from residential properties.

If passed, the bill will create a pilot project that allows property owners in Palmdale and Lancaster to declare residential property to be vacant and register it with local law enforcement. Any subsequent squatters found at the registered property will be subject to arrest for trespassing.

When the bill was first proposed by Assembly Member Steve Fox, city leaders considered adopting a pilot program here as well. However, there were some deficiencies with the current language in the law that needed to be cured before the city would want to participate.

Although Bakersfield city leaders support the bill, they want to wait and see how the pilot program in those other cities works out.

"While Assembly Bill 1513 has good intentions, the benefit of the bill passing with only two pilot cities is that practical and legal problems can be dealt with on a smaller scale before expanding the project statewide," said Associate City Attorney Richard Iger.

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