FAIRFIELD — Two Fairfield police officers stood by Monday as a man who identified himself as Steven Carpenter collected $500 in cash from Fairfield resident Dan Tolvtvar.
Hunched over the trunk of a car, Carpenter signed an agreement stating he had no right to be at the Del Norte Court condominium unit and that he wouldn’t return. He took his money, got into a friend’s waiting vehicle and drove off.
“They’re just going to go down the street to the next boarded up house,” said local real estate lawyer Tim Jones.
Officer Craig Jiminez, one of the officers who stood by Monday at the Tolvtvars’ request, said there is an advanced word of mouth that runs through the transient community about the location of vacant houses.
Dan Tolvtvar and his wife Roberta Tolvtvar, who have power of attorney over the property, said paying the squatter to leave was the only recourse they felt they had when they believed the Fairfield Police Department was not going to be able to, or willing to, help them remove the squatter.
Well-versed squatters know to put utilities in their name, change the locks, move in furniture – make it look as if they belong in order to stymie the eviction or ejection process. It’s harder for law enforcement to determine if they should or shouldn’t be in the residence, as the Tolvtvars discovered when they found Carpenter living in their son’s empty condominium.
“I would want the officer to be cautious and do the right thing,” said Lt. Greg Hurlbut, who said he would speak in generalities to the Daily Republic but not of the specific case since he wasn’t involved. “They’re going to get crucified if they throw the wrong person out of their house.”
The police came on two separate occasions but even the second time with a power of attorney, grant deed, mortgage statement, homeowners association statement and a tax statement, the Tolvtvars said the police favored the squatter’s story, who they said had a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. bill for that address in his name. Several attempts by the Daily Republic to reach the primary officer involved were unsuccessful.
Jones said Carpenter “clearly didn’t belong there” and said that fact should have been “bonehead obvious.” Jones hastened to add, however, that the onus wasn’t on the individual officer but on the lack of legal training in the police force.
“You can show a cop a grant deed or power of attorney and they have no idea what that is unless they do some (personal) estate planning,” he said. “They don’t know what to do with this stuff.
“If the police aren’t willing to consider the totality of the circumstances then they’re never going to enforce any of this stuff and that’s where I have the problem,” he said.
Left behind in the condominium unit, aside from the damage, the Tolvtvars found furniture, a large plastic ficus tree, clothes, mail in their son’s name and paperwork that included a list of properties in various stages of foreclosure. A so-called rental lease also was found – the Fairfield address notated on the paperwork was also in foreclosure, said local real estate agent Denise Kirchubel. While the Del Norte property had not officially been foreclosed, the bank boarded up windows, installed locks and pasted notices on the unit around March 2012.
“I assumed they’d taken possession,” Roberta Tolvtvar said of the bank. Prior to that she said she checked on the property on a regular basis since her son had moved to Washington for a job. “I stupidly forgot about it,” she said, after she thought the bank took possession.
Sometime after that point, Carpenter “moved in” and made himself at home, which included the quick call to put the utilities in his name, but he left the boards on the windows.
“What I’m suspecting is that they’re part of an organized group,” Kirchubel said. “Squatters have become more savvy.”
Kirchubel said she personally hasn’t seen a lot of incidents with squatters but she’s heard the stories from others, referencing a few situations, including one in Suisun City that included watching people’s mail for signs of foreclosure and acting upon the personal information.
“They earn money by making deals with homeowners or the bank,” she said. “It’s a new form of a scam. Accumulate enough money and then take off for a while.”
The primary Fairfield officer on the scene also helped negotiate the dollar figure paid to Carpenter, the Tolvtvars said. Initially offered $200, Carpenter turned it down but told the officer he’d accept $500. That dollar figure was brought back to the Tolvtvars, who did not approach the front door with police, and accepted.
Events began to unfold after the Tolvtvars drove by the Del Norte property not too long ago. It prompted them to do some research and they discovered the property was still in their son’s name. They did what they thought was the correct thing to do: They called the police in order to remove the person and get a short sale going. The fact that it didn’t fall into place that easily, stunned the couple.
“We really thought the police would come over, evict the people, and we’d (then) have to clean it,” Dan Tolvtvar said. “We didn’t have a clue what we were getting in to.”
Faced with what they thought were two choices – the legal eviction or ejection route that could take weeks or months and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars or paying the squatter to leave – they opted to attempt the latter since at the time they didn’t have the squatter’s name and the Sheriff’s Office said they needed a name to evict, Roberta Tolvtvar said. Even so, it’s a move that Hurlbut said further muddied the waters in terms of police helping to remove the squatter.
“That’s not something we would advise someone to do,” he said. “Once you start to negotiate a settlement, (you’re) now starting to confuse the whole situation.”
Hurlbut said, however, that the act of offering to pay the squatters wouldn’t have eliminated the ability of the officer to offer the Tolvtvars a third choice: advising the couple on doing a citizen’s arrest on trespass charges, with the police facilitating that arrest.
No such advice came, said Roberta Tolvtvar.
“Why didn’t they say that at the first visit?” she said. “This is what you need to do . . . you need the proof but then you can do a citizen’s arrest.”
Hurlbut refused to speculate on why the primary responding officer didn’t advise the Tolvtvars of a citizen’s arrest but said in general that, “If someone breaks into a house in the process of foreclosure, I don’t think California recognizes the right to be there, so that would constitute a trespass.”
Less than 24 hours after Carpenter was removed, Kirchubel had a buyer. It was a short sale at $35,000. The sale is currently awaiting bank approval.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.