Recently, the problem became more personal. A couple Case said lives illegally in an Antioch home filed a temporary restraining order against her, claiming the Realtor harassed and stalked them.
Case has been trying to sell the Thistlewood Court home, near the corner of Lone Tree Way and Hillcrest Avenue, since March. When Case dropped by the 1,873-square-foot house on March 12 for a routine property check, she was puzzled to find a car in the driveway.
Since then, she has been battling Anthony Loquiao and Gayalea Risley, who claim that they have a valid lease agreement, although they refuse to show it to Case. Loquiao and Risley produced a document for police, but Case heard from officers that it’s likely a fake.
The Contra Costa County Superior Court rescinded the restraining order favoring the squatters, so Case won her battle. She’s about to close a short sale on the property, and the company representing the buyer has agreed to evict Loquiao and Risley.
The squatters, however, caused Case and the property owner to take a financial hit. The residence will sell for roughly $40,000 less than it would have before the squatters took up residence.
Case is trying to round up support from Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood to resolve the squatting predicament. “Our police resources are being wasted on squatters,” Case said. “The solution, I know, is more money, but we can’t give what we don’t have. Let’s put laws in place that make it easier on the police, where they don’t get 16 to 20 calls a day. … That will free up their time for the real crimes.”
The phenomenon of people taking up residency in vacant homes has been rampant in East County in general and Antioch in particular. Since the housing bubble burst a few years ago and homeowners couldn’t afford to keep up with payments, falling victim to foreclosure, more and more houses have been left unoccupied.
Case spoke at the last Antioch City Council meeting, and city leaders agreed to put the issue on the May 22 agenda. The solution to the problem, however, has proven too complex to be reached by a majority vote.
According to City Councilman and real estate agent Gary Agopian, since Antioch doesn’t own these properties, there’s only so much the city can do. Only the owner can lawfully evict squatters once they’ve established residency through a process called adverse possession, Agopian said. By limiting access to utilities such as water, however, the city can make it more difficult for these people to remain in the houses.
“There’s a lot of issues, and I think that what has to happen could be better defined legislatively for the entire state of California, not just Antioch,” Agopian said. “It’s a complicated issue; it’s not a simple issue, but there are things that can be done.”
Antioch could glean ideas from Pittsburg, which makes renters appear with the property owner and submit a notarized rental agreement and a $250 deposit before water can be turned on.
Antioch police Acting Captain Leonard Orman said the problem has become a real pain for officers over the past three years. Antioch cops field multiple calls per day from residents who see people entering houses displaying a “For Sale” sign. Many times, officers can’t arrest these trespassers because a “victim” can’t be identified. The Antioch Police Department, which is battling a major staffing and funding crunch, can’t always devote resources to locating the titleholder of bank-owned properties. When officers do arrest a squatter, it’s usually for unrelated violations such as stolen property or drug possession.
Case’s situation has intensified squatting as a hot-button topic in Antioch, augmenting a furor surrounding a G Street house. Neighbors of a vacant property on that street complained to police and media, pointing out that squatters have trashed the place inside and out.
When a KTVU reporter approached the house, a man stepped outside, shouted at the reporter and made an obscene gesture. The man also released a pit bull to repel the news crew. Those squatters have since been cleared from the property.