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Ex-tenants: Illegal boarding house operated for years

An illegal boarding house at 704 Elkader St. that was busted Monday in Ashland has been in operation since at least 2015, according to a former resident.

Adrian Schaffer, who lived at the residence from 2015 until it was raided in May 2018, said he expects it has been operating since 2014.

On Monday, Ashland Fire and Rescue officials said the three-bedroom, two-bath house had 11 living spaces in it and shut it down.

Schaffer said he didn’t mind living with so many people, and that the 2,842-square-foot house was spacious.

“Once we all got comfortable with each other, it was a pretty decent place to live,” Schaffer said.

He described the interior as clean and slightly modern with hardwood floors. He said there was a bathroom on the ground level, one in a converted basement and another in the master bedroom, but a couple staying in the master didn’t allow access to the other housemates, Schaffer said.

The house has a large backyard with a pool, hot tub and a sauna.

The basement had been converted into separate rooms for a large-scale medical marijuana grow before cannabis was legalized. One of the alleged accomplices, Rob Hisamoto, went to federal prison in 2013 after he was caught with 233 pounds of marijuana inside the Ashland house, according to a June 3, 2013, news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Hisamoto was a licensed grower with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, but he was allowed to possess a maximum of 45 pounds, because he was a caregiver to 30 patients.

Hisamoto, who owned Samurai Fighting Arts in Medford, also had grows in Central Point and Butte Falls, according to the release.

The basement rooms at the boarding house were used for marijuana processing but later were converted into separate living spaces.

Schaffer said he cared for Hisamoto’s pets — a rattlesnake, cobra and about 10 piranhas — in exchange for reduced rent while Hisamoto served his 48-month prison term.

Schaffer said he paid about $400 in rent for a basement room large enough for a queen-size bed, dresser, TV stand and a couple of lamps.

He said there were about 14 renters living there at one point, and people were charged between $550 and $750, depending on whether the room had windows.

Schaffer said he found the house on Craigslist.

The garage was later converted into more living spaces, as well, Schaffer said.

“It had its ups and downs; food and beverages would get stolen. My PlayStation 4 was stolen, and Rob never compensated me for it,” Schaffer said. “It was loud, some of the roommates were sort of boisterous at times.”

The tenants were mostly people working at restaurants in town and some SOU students, Schaffer said.

“I didn’t mind it all the time. I’ve lived in a large roommate situation before,” Schaffer said. “All of our schedules worked out, so there was always a bathroom free. Everyone always worked so much we hardly ever saw each other.”

Schaffer alleged that Hisamoto had instructed all the tenants to play dumb if the police ever came by and to pretend they didn’t know how many people lived there, because they were just passing through.

But he said that in May, when police knocked on the door, one of the tenants told the police everything.

They gave everyone in the five basement rooms two hours to evacuate.

“I stayed in the Medford Motel 6 for a good month and a half, but I eventually found a place,” Schaffer said. “I have less roommates and a door that locks now.”

In August 2018, Hisamoto and property owner Derek Hinger entered into a deferred plea agreement in which they would comply with code enforcement inspections for a period of 10 months.

Oregon law requires a 24-hour notice before inspections, and the landlords would use that time to deconstruct the rooms, according to officials.

Hisamoto and Hinger allegedly told tenants to leave, and crews would hide the doors, mattresses and other personal possessions in a moving truck, Ashland Fire-Rescue Division Chief of fire and Life Safety Ralph Sartain has said.

This went on until the beginning of the year when neighbors tipped police off to the alleged scheme.

Another former tenant, who asked that his name not to be used, said he lived there for a couple of months in 2016 while attending SOU and working at Caldera Tap House.

He said it wasn’t an ideal situation, because there were roughly 18 people living there, but it was close to school and temporary.

He said he paid $450 a month for the smallest room in the house. He said the lease he signed was on a piece of lined notebook paper.

He said he found the house on Craigslist and was desperate at the time to find affordable housing.

His room was 6-by-10 feet spaces, he said, but the biggest conflict was in the kitchen. He said it was almost impossible to get an opportunity to cook, so he ate mostly microwavable food.

Hinger and Hisamoto have an Ashland Municipal court date set for Feb. 20.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Editor's note:Some potentially derogatory quotes have been removed from a previous version in the interest of fairness.

An evacuation noticed was placed on this house on Elkader Street in Ashland for illegal boarding. Ashland Tidings / Jamie Lusch