City Code Enforcement Cracking Down on Hundreds of Abandoned Homes

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SACRAMENTO -- When Rick Flint bought his home in North Sacramento, he knew it was a fixer-upper. But he didn’t expect his biggest challenge to be the abandoned home next door.

“The trouble is, we don’t know what’s happening over there,” Flint told FOX40. “Transients move in here, and we don’t know their backgrounds. If they were just homeless and trying to find a place to live, it would be a little different. But we know there’s more to it than that.”

More to it, meaning crime and prostitution. Recently, there’s also been loud fights. The evidence is visible -- from smashed windows to doors broken off their hinges.

“I would not allow my wife to be at the house by herself,” said Flint.

This house next door to Flint is just one of hundreds of abandoned homes scattered throughout the city of Sacramento. From Del Paso Heights, through downtown, to South Sacramento. They’re boarded up, fenced -- but still magnets for crime.

“People selling drugs, people getting in fights on the property, potentially weapons offenses,” Sacramento Police Sergeant Matt McPhail said.

Sgt. McPhail told FOX40 while squatters often break into and overrun abandoned homes, the problem starts with homeowners. Sacramento’s Code Enforcement Unit told FOX40, roughly 30 percent of the time, the homeowner is absent, and unresponsive. And without the support of the homeowner, it can be difficult for police officers to remove squatters from a home.

“Many times it is really difficult to determine if someone staying in a home like this has the right or authorization to be there from the property owner,” McPhail said.

But the City, with the help of the City Attorney’s office, is cracking down.

“We try to be aggressive, particularly me and my personal staff,” said City Councilmember Steve Hansen of District 4.

Hansen says he’s working on new ordinances that would make lights, security systems, and fences mandatory around all vacant homes and buildings in the City. He believes this move will deter crime.

“The message is, ‘Hey, this is a neighborhood. These are communities’,” said Hansen. “When you leave empty properties, they become blight. They attract crime. We want you to care about the communities you’re a part of.”

But Hansen, and Sacramento’s Code Enforcement Office, says there’s only so much the City can do on its own. To take action on a problem property, the City needs neighbors to be vocal, and diligent. Code Enforcement tells FOX40, in order to identify these problem homes, their office relies nearly 100 percent on complaints by neighbors.

“We need complaints,” said Hansen. “Sometimes we can’t take action we need unless people have complained about a property.”

But it’s easier said than done. Some people hesitate to call the police. FOX40 spoke with one man who lives near several abandoned houses. He said he’s seen drug deals, and was approached by a man living in one of the homes. But he never called the police, and didn’t want to be identified on camera, out of fear.

“I try to calm myself down, not to make trouble. Because they know me and I live here. I don’t want a drive-by shooting.”

There is reason to be hopeful. After the recession in 2007, City officials say there are fewer vacant homes. The situation is improving, in part, because more people are doing something about it.

“It used to be that properties like this sat empty for decades. But this is a new Sacramento,” said Hansen.

For information on how to report abandoned homes in your neighborhood, head to the City of Sacramento’s website.

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