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Sat, Sept. 21

Totally Trashed<br><i>Tenants leave real mess for landlord</i>

Staff photo by Dean H. Borgwardt

LEANN Russell surveys mounds of junk left behind by deadbeat tenants at a Verde Lakes home she manages.

Leann Russell, of Camp Verde, manages the residence at 3540 Ocotillo Lane in Verde Lakes for Casey Hollenbeck, the owner.

She said that when Hollenbeck decided to renovate the vacant property, a family who agreed to do renovation work in exchange for part of the rent contacted them.

The tenants, a family of five, took occupancy on Nov. 4.

But when no rent was paid and the landlord began receiving notices stating that utilities were being discontinued, she had no choice but to evict the tenants.

"We tried to be accommodating," Russell said, "but they didn't pay one dime, and when they were finally evicted, they left of a heap of junk for us to clean up."

Russell said she became suspicious after she received notices from Arizona Public Service and Flame Propane stating that they had not received payment and were going to discontinue service.

"We filed an eviction notice with the county and we had to sit and watch them trash the place for 30 days before they finally left," she said.

Russell said that she and Hollenbeck grew frustrated because it took more than a month to finally get the deadbeat tenants out of the property. They could do nothing while the mounds of junk grew bigger, she said

Inside the single-wide, broken glass shards were strewn on the floor and meat was left to rot in the kitchen. The backyard had dozens of boxes of discarded clothing, broken down lawnmower parts, busted furniture and trash heaped in piles. The hulking shell of a camper sat hollow in the middle of the yard.

"The tenants made three trips hauling things away after the Marshal's Office arrived and the eviction notice was served," she said. "Now that they're gone we're left to clean up their mess."

The first stage of the eviction process was served on Dec. 19, but they weren't evicted until Jan. 25.

Neysa Claytor witnessed the fiasco from her house next door.

"It's embarrassing to see a house like this," she said. "There is no excuse to leave such a mess and [the landlords] were bending over backwards to help them out."

Claytor said she has worked as a social worker and added, "This is a classic example of someone taking advantage of someone else's generosity."

Now, Russell is concerned about the county penalizing them for having mounds of junk on the property. She and Hollenbeck are now faced with the daunting task of hauling away the refuse.

Russell said that she feels laws tend to favor the tenants and can place landlords in a compromising position.

Bruce Billstrand, code enforcement official with the Town of Camp Verde, said that his department is interested only in keeping properties in compliance with code.

Billstrand added that it is not designed to levy fines and bring litigation, but to find easy resolution for all parties involved.

"It's the ones who plainly refuse to act and do nothing that cause a problem," Billstrand added. "Then there may be a fine. But the number of property owners who are fined is less than 1 percent. It rarely ever goes that far."

He added that property owners in violation might receive a notice of violation, which means 30 days to rectify the problem. From there a citation is issued and an appearance before a hearing officer is required, which may lead to a $250 fine for each violation.

"Camp Verde has always tried to work with the parties involved, and there is a lot of ways land owners can get help with cleanup," said Billstrand, who is in his sixth year on the job.

He added that the code enforcement office is necessary to maintain property values and resolve any safety issues on property.

Michelle Ashton, of Beaver Creek Realty, has been a licensed realtor for nine years and has managed property for five.

She warns that renting property is a risk and that it is vital for landlords to screen prospective tenants thoroughly.

"Landlords need to be concerned about the quality of the tenants they place in their properties," Ashton advised. "Landlords need to keep a physical eye on property to prevent a situation from getting out of hand."

She said that despite the risk involved in renting property, there are a few basic steps landlords can take to protect themselves, like monetary deposits.

"It comes down to the screening process," Ashton added. "Good screening tends to eliminate prospective tenants who may cause a problem for a landlord."

Russell and Hollenbeck thought that they could trust the tenants and required no deposits and even helped the tenants unload their trucks.

"There should be more laws to protect the landlord," she stated. "It's no wonder there isn't affordable housing in the Verde Valley because not everyone can afford security deposits and rent in advance."

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