The fall of the house of Tony Gwynn

Late base­ball great’s San Diego-area home is ap­par­ently oc­cu­pied by a squat­ter, amid ru­mors of a meth lab.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - J. HARRY JONES and PHILLIP MOL­NAR

POWAY, Calif. — Neigh­bors of the late San Diego Padres great Tony Gwynn no­ticed some­thing strange hap­pen­ing in their up­scale Poway neigh­bor­hood about two weeks ago.

The Gwynn fam­ily lost the home to fore­clo­sure last sum­mer, and it’s been va­cant since. But in late De­cem­ber, neigh­bors told the San Diego Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment, they no­ticed peo­ple com­ing and go­ing from the fenced-off mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar res­i­dence.

One neigh­bor spot­ted bar­rels be­ing loaded into the garage, lead­ing to spec­u­la­tion that a metham­phetamine lab might be set­ting up.

Now of­fi­cials with the man­age­ment firm re­spon­si­ble for the bank-owned prop­erty have con­firmed that the man liv­ing in the house is a squat­ter and civil evic­tion pro­ceed­ings have been started against him.

Val­ued at about $2.3 mil­lion, the house is now owned by a New York bank and man­aged by Ocwen Fi­nan­cial Corp. in Florida. Ocwen spokesman John Lo­vallo con­firmed that it had taken ac­tion to evict the man.

Ocwen “re­cently was made aware that an unau­tho­rized per­son was oc­cu­py­ing the prop­erty,” Lo­vallo said. “We are cur­rently in­ves­ti­gat­ing ... and will take all nec­es­sary steps un­der the law to re­move an unau­tho­rized per­son from the prop­erty. We will co­op­er­ate with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties on this mat­ter.”

Last week­end, a Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment sergeant made con­tact with the man. He told the sergeant that he had the le­gal right to be there but in­di­cated he would be mov­ing out. The man, who of­fi­cials have not named be­cause he has not been ar­rested, re­fused to com­ment when ap­proached by a re­porter at the locked gate of the home.

On Tuesday, there were three ve­hi­cles parked in the home’s drive­way. But on Wednesday, there were none, and by late af­ter­noon the pad­lock and chain the res­i­dent was us­ing to se­cure the prop­erty had been re­moved and a new one had re­placed it.

Sher­iff ’s of­fi­cials said they were lim­ited in what they could do with­out au­tho­riza­tion from the home’s owner.

“We want to ad­dress the neigh­bors’ con­cerns, but we can’t just knock down the doors,” Sher­iff ’s Lt. Christo­pher Col­lier said. “There are laws that we have to abide by and facts that have to be checked out.”

Col­lier said the man said he had paid $24,000 to lease the house for a year. Neigh­bors told deputies the man’s story of how he had come to be in the house had changed over the last few weeks.

“He is claim­ing he has the right to be there, but he also doesn’t seem to want to be in the mid­dle of this and is say­ing he will move out,” the lieu­tenant said.

Bob Ma­nis, the city’s di­rec­tor of devel­op­ment ser­vices, who over­sees Poway’s code com­pli­ance team, said the city also re­ceived com­plaints. He also said one of the wor­ries con­cerned the bar­rels be­ing moved into the garage.

Ma­nis said that as far as the city was con­cerned, there had been no code vi­o­la­tions. Elec­tric­ity, ca­ble and gas had been turned on at the house in re­cent weeks, au­thor­i­ties said, but ap­par­ently there is no trash ser­vice.

Should trash be­gin to pile up, then code com­pli­ance of­fi­cers could take ac­tion, Ma­nis said.

The 7,630-square-foot, six-bed­room, six-bath house was built by Gwynn and was the fam­ily’s home from 1991. Gwynn, a Long Beach Poly High School star who went on to be­come the San Diego Padres’ great­est hit­ter and a mem­ber of base­ball’s Hall of Fame, died in 2014 at age 54 af­ter bat­tling can­cer. His widow, Ali­cia, lived in the house at the time of the fore­clo­sure.

Col­lier said the man told him that he had been there for more than two months. The lieu­tenant said squat­ter cases are legally prob­lem­atic. “It’s not like we can go to a house if some­one’s been there a month or two, knock on the door and say you’re not liv­ing here law­fully and you’re un­der ar­rest,” Col­lier said. “It be­comes a civil process.”

So-called squat­ter’s rights in Cal­i­for­nia can be com­pli­cated. One of the ways a per­son can get pos­ses­sion of a prop­erty is if they have openly oc­cu­pied the home for at least five years and act the way an ac­tual owner would.

That might in­volve pay­ing prop­erty taxes or a home­owner as­so­ci­a­tion fee, and mak­ing re­pairs to the prop­erty.

Rent is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. If the ten­ant paid rent for five years, and then tried to claim pos­ses­sion the month af­ter stop­ping pay­ing rent, he or she would have no claim, said an anal­y­sis of the law by the Le­gal Bea­gle web­site. But if they stopped pay­ing rent five years ago and stayed the whole time, then a le­gal case could be more dif­fi­cult.

[email protected]­tri­bune.com phillip.mol­[email protected]­tri­bune.com Jones and Mol­nar write for the San Diego Union-Tri­bune.

K.C. Al­fred San Diego Union-Tri­bune

THE HOUSE that Tony Gwynn built in 1991 was foreclosed on in 2018, four years af­ter his death. An ap­par­ent squat­ter now faces evic­tion.

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