This is Rick Harmon and welcome to The Gordian Knot. This is episode 16. In the mid-2000s it was brought to our attention of a property that was about to go to tax sale. The property was in East LA, and the issue were both owners of record were deceased and there was no probate. Now, this caused a problem in a number of ways and I’m going to describe those to you and how we went about solving it. Well, the first issue was this property was vacant, had been vacant for a very long time and needed to be boarded up and secured to keep squatters out. Of course, there was weeds and other kinds of problems.

Well, we contacted, after doing some skip tracing and research, and found that in fact the owners were dead. Their backstory was they had immigrated from Cuba, presumably during the Castro era and fled to the United States and purchased this property at some point in time. Mister died and then missus died, which is pretty common in the sequence. But the family, there were family members in the area, but they wanted nothing to do with this property. For all other intents and purposes, the property was free and clear of mortgages. There were no other liens besides city liens from the City of Los Angeles for a substandard property.

Now, the challenge was going to be, how do we help the neighbors and how do we clean this up and provide some level of protection and add value? As it turned out, the plan to open up a probate was never successful because the other relatives really wanted nothing to do with the property and the family members. It appears that, in some cultures, the idea of a property being once owned by deceased persons has some pretty bad mojo, or whatever, connected to it, and these family members wanted nothing associated with it. They had already taken the valuables and the family heirlooms, or whatever, that was important to them and they’d left this house actually in shambles, which isn’t unusual.

Along the way, we were trying to decide in clearing the title to this property, how we were going to keep the property clear of squatters. This is a constant problem. One of the main issues was, once we had an issue with a squatter, how are we going to get them out, besides using a carrot or cookies? Squatters can be very, very stubborn. In California, being so sensitive to protecting the rights of occupants, we needed to be aware of this. Ultimately, what our solution was, when we came across the first squatter was to entice them out of the property. Another time, we did it with the sheriffs. But, the third time was a stubborn situation.

We had a man and a woman who was posing as his wife and a older teenage son, and they had moved in the property. Set up house, they had actually cleaned up the interior, and I don’t know what other activities were going on besides the drug activities there, but for all intents and purposes they were acting as a family. This became an issue. How does one evict a squatter? Well, I’ve been involved in cases with tenants in the past where they have been in properties that I’ve already owned as a rental, and had the matter dealt with it with a normal unlawful detainer type eviction. But, this was different. We didn’t have the deed yet. We didn’t have anything to complete to quiet our title yet.

What we ultimately did is we went to court after filing a Petition for Ejectment. This was interesting, because I had never seen this done. Now, even crazier was the occupant, the squatter, the adult male showed up to court, answered the notice. I guess it’s the summons and complaint or the petition after being posted and being served. Because, we certainly knew his name. We had a friendly, you know, professional, courteous relationship with this gentleman. He shows up to court and the judge asked him a few questions and he responded. Judge asked us a few questions, we responded.

The occupant, the squatter responded affirmatively that he was not paying rent and had no legal right to be in that property. Before he could even finish his sentence, the judge was signing our order. Slap, slap, done, done. That’s the way it worked. It was interesting lesson for us. When you don’t have, in California, if you don’t have all of your title in a row, there is an alternative way of getting somebody out of a property who does not belong there. This is called filing a petition for an ejectment, not for unlawful detainer. There’s always lessons to be learned, and that is our lesson for today.

This episode is brought to you by, loans and solutions for cash poor California estates and trusts.

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