MARYSVILLE – Bruce Kaufman said 60th Place NE was like, “The I-5 of the walking dead.”
“People would walk back and forth like zombies. They mostly came out at night.”
Kaufman was referring to people who would walk to 6417 to get drugs.
The house is boarded up now, and Kaufman and other neighbors are ecstatic.
Arielle Jones said she stood at her window and clapped as the house was shuttered last week. It was only fitting, she said, that city workers lowered the 12th Man flag in the yard to half-staff.
The city was able to board up the house because of a new law passed by the city in December. It deals with homes that don’t have utilities.
City Attorney Jon Walker said the original intent of the ordinance was as a health/safety concern.
“The conditions folks live in when they don’t have running water can be hazardous to their health and the health of others (e.g. sewage on the floor),” Walker says in an email. “The main purpose of the ordinance was to be sure that people were living in sanitary conditions.”
A secondary benefit is that in many cases the people who are living under those conditions are drug users occupying the residence illegally.
The city can’t use the law to shut down every drug house. It applies only to occupied residences with no water/sewer service.
Also, the ordinance is complaint-driven.
“So a house has to be attracting attention from the neighbors and causing them to complain. The city doesn’t go out looking for these houses or look through unpaid water bills to find houses without service,” Walker continued.
Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said he is glad police and code enforcement have this new tool to help crack down on drug use. Previously, it could take five years or more to shut down a drug house. With this new law, it can be done within a few months, even with appeals.
“It has given us an effective tool to help deal with this in some cases where we were previously stymied,” Nehring says in an email.
Police respond to screaming
On Jan. 1, at about 4:50 p.m., police were called to the residence because neighbors heard loud screaming. A police report says:
They were familiar with the residence being a longtime flop house where criminal conduct goes on such as drug usage and stolen property. The house had no running water, electricity or heat. Several investigations and arrests involving unlawful tenants also took place there.
The owner let the property foreclose, and three people moved in who concocted a fraudulent rental agreement. The city removed the water meter after someone tampered with it in October of 2014.
The report goes on to say police saw a 5-year-old boy walking around with only pajama bottoms on. It was 30 degrees outside and only 40 or so degrees inside the house.
“He was shivering and had snot running down his nose,” the report says. Police could see goose bumps so he was wrapped in a blanket and taken to a patrol vehicle.
The report continues saying there was no food in the house, in the refrigerator, freezer or cupboards. Sharp tools and other items dangerous to a child were strewn about the house. The interior as well as the back yard were filled with rotting garbage. A male and female pit bull were in the house. One of them previously had been stabbed by a man high on methamphetamine.
Police then examined the bathroom next to the boy’s bedroom.
“The odor coming from the bathroom was so horrific I almost threw up,” the officer’s report says, adding the odor was sewage and feces. “The toilet was removed from the hole in the floor, and there was a five-gallon bucket in the middle of the bathroom floor full to the brim with brown-colored liquid.”
The boy’s parent had gone to a store, and an hour later were still gone, so Children’s Protective Services came and got the boy.
The next morning police told the mom why the son was taken, and she said she “would be doing anything and everything that CPS required to get (her son) back.
“I should not have taken him there in the first place,” she says in the report.
The police report recommends both parents be charged with fourth-degree domestic violence, cruelty to a child.
Kaufman said he remembers when the three main squatters moved on to the property about a year ago. He said two women asked him if the house was empty because they were interested in it as an investment property.
“It was a ploy,” he theorized. “They didn’t look like that (investors).”
Jones said the house had been empty so she was happy to get neighbors. But not for long.
“Traffic was constant day and night,” she said.
Both said it was a little scary living next to a drug house. Jones recalled the night the pit bull was stabbed. Kaufman said police came to that residence about a dozen times in the past year. He told his family not to answer the door if they didn’t know the person. No soliciting signs are posted on his house.
“There was some dicey characters,” he said.
“They were unsavory,” she added. “Luckily they kept to themselves.”
She said she never saw or heard of guns there, but “of course I’m gonna be worried” with kids of her own.
Kaufman said he felt crime was going up in the area because users need money to get drugs. Jones said she knows people there stole water from some of the neighbors.
“There’s not a whole lot we can do, and that’s the worst feeling,” Kaufman said.
Both said it was interesting how the people in the house tried to fit in. Jones mentioned the Seahawks flag, and Kaufman talked about Christmas lights.
“They must have used a car battery because they had no electricity. They were always using flashlights,” he said.
Both said they wished the people could have been evicted quicker.
“The laws are so confusing,” Jones said. “It seems like squatters have more rights than we do. People need to be educated and to fight back.”
New law is not for those 'down on their luck'
MARYSVILLE – People who are having financial problems and are having trouble paying their utility bills don’t have to worry about having their houses boarded up.
“This is not designed for people who are just down on their luck,” city code enforcement officer Deryck McLeod said.
The city’s new law is targeting unsafe houses that are often vacant except for squatters. They do not have water, electricity or sewer so there are health concerns. The city boarded up its first home last week and plans to board up two more in the next few weeks.
Elizabeth Chamberlin, who also works in code enforcement, said neighbors were so excited when the first house was shuttered.
“One woman was in tears she was so tired of dealing with it,” Chamberlin said.
A side benefit is the homes often house drug dealers.
McLeod said one disturbing thing he saw at the first boarded up house was stripped wire.
“I haven’t seen that in a long time,” he said.
What that signals to him is that people were using methamphetamine; wire is often sold to recyclers to pay for drugs. Heroin has been the drug of choice for years.
McLeod said people on heroin are lazy, but meth users are “up all night car prowling and burglarizing. It’s a double whammy; one person crime wave.”
McLeod explained that when homeowners abandon their homes and it goes into foreclosure houses can remain empty for years.
Chamberlin said a lot of money is wasted as houses sit.
“And now the place is out of control,” she said, adding that often third-party companies pay the property taxes so the county can’t seize the house.
Banks sell those mortgages left and right so it’s hard to find out which one owns a home.
“It can be a maze finding out who owns something,” McLeod said. “We hound the heck out of them” to keep those houses maintained, even threatening fines of $100 a day.
Sometimes banks are responsible. One problem house on 116th is another success story, he said, because a management company came in and cleaned it up.
He said once squatters move in it can be hard to prove that they don’t belong there.
McLeod said Marysville seems to be a hub for the homeless.
“Everett’s always good about pushing them up north,” he said. “They want this lifestyle. They are hard-core drug users. Car prowls and burglaries shoot up in the neighborhood. People don’t want to live around this.”
McLeod said while the city’s Chronic Nuisance Law is labor intensive, the new law is “cut and dry. It’s a great, easy process to get these people out.”
The code enforcement officer said the entire city is working together on this: from the city attorney coming up with the law to police enforcing it to public works helping with the cleanup.
“It’s a pain in the butt, but it’s a pain in the butt for all of us,” he said.
McLeod said he hopes drug dealers find out about the city’s efforts to drive them out of town.
“We’re going to shut you down one way or the other,” he said. “We want our neighborhoods cleaned up.”