Home is front line in battle with City Hall

Stacks of legal documents cover the kitchen table and architectural plans stick out of pantry shelves at Judy Shea’s Glendale home.

The kitchen has become command central as she tries to battle City Hall, regain control of her home improvement projects and wrap her head around piling costs.

“They’re drowning me,” Shea said, rifling through stacks of paperwork and bills.

While Shea paints herself as a victim, city officials say she and her family made their bed — nearly quadrupling the size of her home over six years without required permits — and now must sleep in it.

After years of failing to get the home under compliance, city officials say there were forced, for the first time, to get a judge to appoint a receiver — at Shea’s expense.

“This is the only time in Glendale’s history that the city’s done this type of receivership and it might be the last time,” said Deputy City Atty. Yvette Neukian. “We needed to take extreme measures.”

In addition to the lack of permits, the city argued that Shea put people living in her home at 4104 Lowell Ave. in danger due to health and safety code violations, according to Los Angeles County Superior Court records.

Although the court-appointed receiver was a first for Glendale, in the past decade more cities have turned to the method to combat hoarding and other health and safety issues, said Andrew Adams, the receiver in Shea’s case.

Traditionally, receivers are known for their work on bankruptcy cases.

“It’s meant for these weird, awkward, tricky situations,” said Adams, of Los Angeles-based California Receivership Group. “Sometimes these things get contentious.”

Since 2001, Shea’s son, Jesse Yzaguirre, had been doing construction work on the house, almost quadrupling its size to 4,919 square feet, but doing so without city design approval or construction permits, according to the city. In 2005, city officials filed a misdemeanor criminal complaint against Yzaguirre for the illegal work and he was put on probation for three years.

Shea admits that Yzaguirre was wrong to begin construction without permits. She said Yzaguirre was unaware that permits were required for the work he planned to do. She said she came into the picture to try to remedy the situation. She said she has been trying to obtain permits, but has not been able to do so without plan approval from the city, which she has been unable to obtain.

City officials say the have been unable to approve the plans over the years because they were not complete.

Back-and-forth about compliance continued for years between the city and Yzaguirre, and in 2009, he applied for design approval about six months before his probation was to expire. In January 2010, the Design Review Board denied the project as presented, instead asking for several changes.

Then city officials inspected the house several months later and found a second story built without permits, as well as a detached garage, junk in the yard and other issues, according to city records.

“All of the unpermitted alterations, additions and property maintenance issues in my opinion create an unsafe dwelling,” Rene Sada, code enforcement officer, declared in his inspection report, dated June 16, 2010.

About a week later, Shea was given 72 hours to fix the violations or the city would ask for a receiver to take over the property.

Shea’s attorney, Dennis Fuire, argued that even if she wanted to fix the violations, she couldn’t do it in 72 hours because most of the changes would first have to be approved by the Design Review Board, according to court documents.

Six months later, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Donna Fields Goldstein appointed a receiver to get the house into compliance with health and safety regulations.

“When a receiver is appointed, the property owner loses control over everything,” Neukian said.

Glendale’s strict design review process, and emphasis on following codes, has caught up with others who were found to have done home renovations without permits, most notably former Councilman John Drayman and TV host Mario Lopez.

“People say, ‘Well it doesn’t have a permit, but it was done correctly,’ but our answer to that is we don’t know that,” Neukian said. “We give people a lot of chances to comply.”

For Shea, it has been an expensive process. The receiver was initially charging $350 an hour, but brought the hourly rate down to $150 at the judge’s request.

Shea also pays $500 a month for administration expenses and up to $150 an hour to a consultant hired by the receiver to shepherd plans through the city’s planning department. She estimates she’ll rack up about $35,000 in fees, plus she has to pay thousands in city and attorney’s fees.

“We keep getting these bills,” Shea said. “What is it for? It’s nothing. It’s not a nail in this house.”

The Design Review Board has approved plans for the outside of Shea’s house, but city planners have yet to sign off on permits for the building’s interior. Part of the holdup is due to Shea changing the design plans to cut costs, Neukian said.

The next status meeting before the judge is set for Oct. 12.

Getting the house up to code could cost about $200,000, according to initial construction bids. But since the receiver has placed a priority lien on the house, Shea can’t secure a bank loan. Instead, the receiver plans to get money from private lenders who could charge up to 15% interest.

“If this continues, we’ll be driven into foreclosure,” Shea said.

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