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Vacant Gold Hill house becomes bane of neighborhood

Piles of trash, stray kittens and a nostril-melting stench are all that's left at a Gold Hill house squatters called home for nearly three years.

"The stench from the trash is so bad. It's been like this for a couple of years now," said Mary Stivers, who lives across the street from the dilapidated property with her sister,t Samantha Stivers.

Jackson County property records show Jeremiah Walls purchased the home after it was foreclosed on in 2009.

The "squatters" showed up a few years later, Samantha Stivers said.

"Somebody bought it and they had it foreclosed on, and they told someone they could move in there rent free. They've just squatted there for three years now. People in and out, people doing meth, heroin, everything," she said.

The sisters found a plastic jug full of spent syringes and a methamphetamine pipe in the lawn and have signs posted in their own front yard aimed at scaring the squatters off, which seems to have worked.

No one has been at the home in a few weeks, Samantha Stivers said.

The home is owned by New Jersey-based mortgage corporation PHH, which purchased it in November 2013 after Walls was foreclosed on.

Re/Max broker James Cooper is assigned to sell the home on behalf of PHH, which, he said, is doing all it can legally to get the squatters evicted and the property cleaned up.

"They (the squatters) took it over. We locked it down once, when we thought they were gone, but they just tore the locks off and went back in," Cooper said, "I've been in the house when we thought we had occupancy, and you don't want to get in the house. There are bags of pills, machetes in every room."

A property eviction notice Cooper posted on the home's front door early this month is due today, which gives PHH the legal right to dispose of the squatters' property outside the home, but until PHH receives a court issued eviction notice, the home can't legally be entered by anybody except the occupants.

"The squatters have established an occupancy in there," Cooper said. "Squatters can take occupancy of a house and then there are legal notices you have to post to get them out."

The Stivers' just want the place cleaned up.

One sign Samantha made is leaned up against a telephone pole on the corner of the derelict property, at 683 North Fifth Avenue, reading "the heat is on and so is the smell."

The Stivers sisters have complained about the house to the city of Gold Hill, the Department of Environmental Quality, Cooper and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office — all of whom they say dragged their feet addressing the issue.

Sheriff's Department community service officer Gerry Conley, who works in Gold Hill part-time under a contract between the city and the sheriff's department, said it's useless to cite the squatters, because they don't have any money or will to clean the place up.

Conley and the city are going after PHH, he said.

The ticket, Conley said, is Oregon House Bill 2662, passed in 2013, which prohibits the owner of a foreclosed home from neglecting the property while its vacant.

"Everybody there (at PHH) just seems to be running us around in circles," Conley said. "Inexperience on my end and the city manager's end has caused a huge delay. ... Nobody has ever done this in this city."

Conley said there are about a half dozen other homes in Gold Hill under similar circumstances, but cleaning up the problem is more than a matter of kicking down the front door and arresting whoever is inside.

"Things don't happen right now, they have to happen by the law," he said.

Conley said once the city notifies the PHH with a legal letter of compliance to maintain the property, it will have about a month to take action before he can start issuing the mortgage company citations.

"I don't know politics or anything. I am just a good old redneck girl that knows right from wrong and good from bad. This is wrong," said Samantha Stivers, 46.

Mary Stivers, 43, said she is afraid for the safety of her two children living next door to the home.

"You move to a small town to avoid something like this, so you and your kids can feel safe," she said. "I don't see anything being done."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

Neighbors are concerned about squatters and trash buildup at a vacant home on the corner of 5th Avenue and Gustaf Street in Gold Hill. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore