Squatters becoming a growing problem that one Fresno woman experienced first hand

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Squatters taking over vacant properties is a growing problem in California. In central Fresno squatters nearly destroyed Shirley Alexander's home while she spent a year trying to get it back.

Alexander tried to save money by trying to do the eviction process herself. More than a year later she's just getting them out. I spoke with the city of Fresno code enforcement officials who said they get calls for trespassing and scenarios like this daily. Alexander's home is just the latest in what's become a growing concern for property owners-- squatters. "They didn't like being monitored, they didn't like us checking on the house-- My house," said Alexander.

Drug paraphernalia, trash, even bottles of urine scattered throughout her childhood home. Worried she'd be responsible for repairing electrical and water lines she said squatters tampered with Alexander didn't get code enforcement involved until last month.

Instead of using the house as income after retirement she's now forced to clear and secure the house to sell, but not before the squatters exercise their legal right to claim their possessions left in Alexander's home. "One of their responsibilities is to keep the property secure and to monitor in some way shape or form," said Mark Standriff, city of Fresno.

Standriff said they get reports of activity like this daily, Adding, it's more common in the winter months. "It's an activity that were watching out for and it's important for everyone to work together."

The blighted and vacant building ordinance, passed in June of 2015, requires property owners to register vacancies. The city has now placed that registry on their website.

It may seem like an easy fix but often times property owners can spend a year in court trying to get an eviction. Or hire someone without the proper credentials. Alexander tried to save money by doing the eviction process herself. "We went through the courthouse to get the paperwork we did everything right, but they ignored it. Kinda stunned us."

We spoke with an attorney who works with landlord and tenant cases who said, typically, these scenarios can cost you around $1,500 in legal and court fees.

The eviction process is a complicated one. Legal experts tell Action News it's important for property owners to make sure their lease or rental agreement has a provision against subletting for their protection.
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