Ordinance to Track Vacant Homes in City

San Marino police responded to a disturbing incident on the morning of March 8. A man who had gone to check on a supposedly vacant Avondale Road residence on behalf of the homeowner was accosted by a squatter living in the master bedroom. Police, who found that a rear door had been forced open, arrested the 22-year-old transient on suspicion of residential burglary and assault with a deadly weapon.
The incident put an exclamation point on a percolating trend in San Marino: homes that stand vacant for weeks or months on end. City Councilman Steve Talt lobbied in February for a city ordinance that would require owners of longstanding vacant homes to register at City Hall and provide contact information for a local representative. The City Council took up the matter last week and directed city staff to proceed with drafting an ordinance.
The San Marino police and fire departments have noticed an upswing in calls involving vacant homes, according to an agenda report, and they’ve begun keeping a log of properties that stand empty for extended periods.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that in many cases, the residences are purchased as second homes or investment properties by people who live primarily in China.
With the council’s direction and the public’s input at last week’s meeting, the new vacant property registration ordinance is expected to require a homeowner to:
• Register a residence with the city if it stands vacant for 30-45 days or more.
• Provide contact information for a local agent who can get to the residence within an hour if called on.
• Pay an annual fee, which could be as high as $500.
• Pay an unspecified fine for failing to register.
“If the ordinance is written, it is not with a punitive sense, but for safety,” said the mayor, Dr. Allan Yung.
Potential squatters represent just one of the concerns. Others include sprinklers running on a schedule that is not adjusted for rainfall, and signs of neglect or disrepair that are not dealt with.
Susan Jakubowski, an alternate on the Planning Commission, spoke of a house in her Roanoke Road neighborhood that has been vacant for 5-6 years. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called code enforcement; that is labor for the city,” she said. “I seem to be the maintenance person for that property. The ground cover is overgrown, stuff is falling from trees, the Christmas lights are up year-round. I think it becomes an eyesore.”
Gene Chuang topped that with the tale of a home next to his on Gainsborough Drive that has stood empty for more than 25 years. The problems it has generated include feral cats, hornets, coyotes, electrical issues, a termite-invested roof and a break-in by a transient.
Cindy Collins, who is working for the city administration on an interim basis, conducted research into vacancy ordinances and found that 164 of the 482 incorporated cities in California have them, and about 90% of those require a registration fee to help the city recoup its costs in maintaining the program.
In San Marino, a fine likely would not be triggered unless police, fire or code enforcement had occasion to respond at an empty house. Chuang asked that it also encompass newly built homes that stand unsold on the market for extended periods. The ordinance is also expected to have an initial grace period for registration.

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