Sandy, Ore.— Joe and Diane Rinard built their dream home in 2004. It sits on five acres of farmland just outside of Sandy.
The neatly kept property is nestled among huge fir trees. It is so quiet in this rural part of Clackamas County, you used to be able to hear owls and frogs at night.
But not anymore.
“The next-door neighbors changed all our lives,” said Diane Rinard.
Squatters have turned the farm and forest land behind the Rinard’s property into a junkyard. There are cars and motorhomes littered across the property, along with endless amounts of trash, including food scraps.
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office described the place as a “train wreck.” Police have been called to the property 62 times in the past two years, according to county records.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” said Joe Rinard. “We kept hoping it would get better but it just kept getting worse and worse and worse.”
The problem started several years ago, when the Rinard’s longtime neighbors passed away. Records show Joel Ward, a relative, took over the property. Then came the mess.
In May 2014, Clackamas County started receiving complaints about the property at 43240 Southeast Music Camp Road. Neighbors said trash was accumulating on the land, people were living in recreational vehicles and someone was operating an illegal sandblasting business. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality later shut down the sandblasting operation.
Over the next three years, county records show code enforcement officers visited the property repeatedly, along with representatives from various other state and county agencies.
On several occasions, records indicate the relative living on the property agreed to clean the place up. He didn’t.
The Clackamas County Code enforcement file on the property, obtained through a public records request, includes dozens of color photos showing broken down cars and motorhomes scattered across the farmland.
There is scrap metal, tarps and solid waste spread over much of the five-acre site.
“There’s a lot of people coming and going. Noises and all kinds of ruckus at night,” said Joe Rinard. “They’re tearing cars apart, they’re tearing motorhomes apart, there’s junk piles all over the place.”
Neighbors said as many as a dozen people appear to be living on the property in broken-down motorhomes, trailers and tents.
“They’re squatting. They’re there illegally,” said Scott Caufield, building codes administrator with Clackamas County.
Records show since December 2014, Clackamas County has issued $25,600 in fines or penalties against the property owner for code violations, including solid waste.
The fines have not been paid and code enforcement orders have been ignored, explained Caufield. As a result, Clackamas County filed a lien against the property.
Code enforcement said it has also looked into pursing code violations including abatement of dangerous buildings and chronic nuisance.
“I would say that we have exhausted all of the options that we would normally pursue,” said Caufield.
KGW visited the property in late May. Eight men and women were walking around the overgrown property. None of them wished to be interviewed and requested we leave.
“People in the neighborhood are feeling the same way -- we’re frustrated, we’re tired that nothing is getting done,” said Joe Rinard, who helped organize a neighborhood watch.
Neighbors say they’ve called and written to complain to government officials, including a letter sent to Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard.
Neighbors also had a meeting with representatives from various agencies including code enforcement, DEQ and the sheriff’s office.
Clackamas County explained this case is especially complex because the property owners are deceased. There was a reverse mortgage. Neither the bank nor those living on the property are taking responsibility while the place is in foreclosure.
A spokesperson for Wells Fargo explained the loan was transferred to the online mortgage company Mr. Cooper last year. In an email to KGW, media relations for Mr. Cooper said the loan was transferred to Champion Mortgage in September 2017.
“I can tell you that currently this property is occupied and we do not own the title; therefore by law we aren’t able to intervene,” explained Mr. Cooper media relations in the email.
KGW has reached out to Champion Mortgage for comment.
Clackamas County said they are not legally able to take action.
“Contrary to what people think, we can’t just go barging in on the property, kick down the doors and begin the process of cleaning it up,” explained Caufield of Clackamas County. “We have to have legal authority.”
The best hope for improvement may come later this month. The property is scheduled to be auctioned off on June 21, although previous sheriff sales on the property have been delayed.
Once someone purchases the property, the new owner will become responsible for the mess and Clackamas County is ready to file a civil lawsuit to make sure that happens.
“Clackamas County counsel is prepared to move forward once ownership is clarified,” said Tim Heider, county spokesperson.
The Rinards are simply tired of waiting. They’re tired of the mess.
“It’s been our worst nightmare,” said Joe Rinard. “We’d just like it to get back to the old way it was. Just a nice safe, quiet neighborhood.”