Sunday, December 21, 2014

Family fights to remove squatter from local condo

squatters, 7/15/13

Roberta Tolvtvar looks over damage done to her son's condominium by squatters who had moved in. Earlier, the Tolvtvars paid a man who identified himself as Steven Carpenter to leave and not come back rather than work through the court system. (Brad Zweerink/Daily Republic)

From page A1 | July 21, 2013 |

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.

Cash for keys

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.

The choices

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.”

The end

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 Follow her on Twitter at


Discussion | 12 comments

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  • ErnestJuly 21, 2013 - 9:08 am

    I know some people who will be happy to evict these squatters. It will cost you just as much as the way the Tolvtars did it, but you will have the added satisfaction of knowing that the squatters ended up in the hospital - not down the street.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rick WoodJuly 21, 2013 - 4:27 pm

    There you go, Fairfield; if you want vigilante justice, that's where we'll be. Better get your act together--fast.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rick WoodJuly 21, 2013 - 4:25 pm

    This is stupid beyond words, but I'll try. Unless Fairfield wants to be a place where the word on the street is that it's a great for your squatting business, we need to get a handle on this and give the police instructions that will result in the opposite effect. What do other jurisdictions do? I say, as a taxpaying citizen, I'm will to pay for any wrongful eviction that are proven in order for our police to take more risks on our behalf. What person is going to try to evict someone from their own home? When found out--and they inevitably would be--don't they go to prison or at least pay a huge fine? It's not worth it. Any "bonehead obvious" case is worth the tiny risk of being wrong to kick the bums out. What do you say!?!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mr. SmithJuly 21, 2013 - 5:15 pm

    RLW is right. This nonsense needs to be ended ASAP. If these newspaper articles do not initiate some major action on the part of our city council and police administration, nothing will. Having to bribe trespassers to vacate a premise they don't own? What next--bums and bumettes roaming our streets, parks and businesses 24/7, sleeping whenever and wherever, trashing the environment? Oh, that's right--we already have that--and it is getting worse.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rick WoodJuly 21, 2013 - 5:31 pm

    Thanks Mr. Smith. If you and I agree, given we represent “bookends” of the political spectrum, probably 90%+ of Fairfield is with us. If we need state immunity legislation to get action, our representatives better get on it. But our local forces should not wait for that.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • DJJuly 21, 2013 - 8:00 pm

    This is the same city that thinks it's a good idea to put homeless shelter in a business park. I have had to run bums off our property more times then I care to count since that place opened. Great "business" environment Fairfield...

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • mike kirchubelJuly 21, 2013 - 8:32 pm

    I'm with you, Rick. Why should we pay squatters to leave, aren't we paying the police to do that? It seems they need to take a class from Tim Jones on real estate law and then expect them to do their jobs.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Just sayin...July 21, 2013 - 8:52 pm

    When we it comes to Fairfield PD, I guess we get what we pay for? Or not.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD Brooks 22, 2013 - 12:18 pm

    Having been involved in the clean up and restoration of foreclosures, I can tell from an up close and personal view, you this is nothing new. I shared a story about my son’s rental a few weeks ago. Sadly, there are some incredible and quite successful scams being perpetrated on innocent people that have paid several thousand dollars to move in. Paying squatters and bums is absurd and that practice must not be allowed to continue. The police must be there to move that process along. I agree with you gentlemen, this must be dealt with immediately along with severe penalties.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksJuly 22, 2013 - 12:23 pm

    Sorry, Kick 'Em Out Quick is a real law firm that I thought was a joke. It's not...It's also not based locally.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Dan TJuly 23, 2013 - 10:38 pm

    One thing not mentioned in the article is the affect on City revenue. Neighborhoods weighed down by this type of infestation negatively impact the over-all real estate recovery and in turn reduce potential revenue for the City. Since a large portion of the City budget is made up of property tax revenue, failing to discourage this type of activity will continue to put downward pressure on property values and make it increasingly difficult to maintain or expand City services.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksJuly 24, 2013 - 6:18 am

    Bottom line: This problem along with any legal issue across the board will not go away until enforcement begins again in earnest. Looking the other way and not producing enough resources allowing people to break every imaginable rule and law is what has brought us to this point. Time to get busy Courts, Police and Sheriff’s Departments, time to get busy! Oh yeah, and you lousy parents need to bring it up a few notches as well!

    Reply | Report abusive comment

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