I’m signed off, my house is finaled, my case is closed, and I’m finally done with the City of Oakland - this round.
For obvious reasons, I’ve been pretty happy to not revisit the pain of dealing with CEDA’s compliance department, but I think it’s important to talk about how the process went, and how it finally ended for me. Heaven knows there are others fighting the same battle, and they could probably benefit from my experience, such as it is.
So, I should probably post a timeline.
July 7th, 2008 - Michelle Newman, my long suffering title agent, starts trying to contact the city of Oakland to get an explanation of the liens involved, and a path to resolution and release of title.
July 15th, 2008 - No response from Oakland. Aurora bank, the title holder, also starts calling city of Oakland.
July 28th, 2008 - Michelle ccs me: "Several weeks ago we had faxed over a demand request for the above referenced property. As of today, we have not heard back and would like to get this file closed before the end of the Month. Also, it is my understanding that there are 3 liens that recorded in error but I do not see them released as of yet. Please advise."
July 28th - 2008 - first response from the city: "If you faxed a demand it should have gone to City Wide Liens (510) 986-2728. Inspector Nguyen spoke with someone last week, I’m not sure if it was your office and explained that the property is declared Substandard Public Nuisance. A notice went into the mail today to the Owner. Please contact Inspector Nguyen at 238-6269 or firstname.lastname@example.org. "
July 30th, 2008: "Hi Kim, I left you a voicemail regarding the above referenced property. I have been trying for weeks to get an answer out of the City regarding the liens that are showing on my title report. I have obtained a print out for several of the liens from the listing agent, but there are still 3 that were recorded in error along with the perspective lien. Can you please contact me with status on this property? We are moving forward and trying to get this closed as soon as possible. These liens are the only things holding us up."
August 1st, 2008: from Michelle: "I hate them!!!! I am still going around and around. I do have an indemnity for you to sign regarding the perspective lien and will email over. We are moving forward at a very, very slow pace. :-("
August 5th, 2008: Lacking a response from the city, and armed with my compliance officer’s name, I visit CEDA myself. I meet with inspector Kim Nguyen, who informs me that in order to release the title, I have to sign a compliance plan and post a $2000 bond in my name. I point out that I don’t own the house - so what happens if I sign the bond and the transaction falls through for some other reason? "Happens all the time. Not my problem. Don’t buy this house, it has lots of problems."
August 5th, 2008 - Signed the compliance plan, post $2000 bond with my own cash. Initial deadline is 10/19/08 (90 days). This is to include new foundation, roof, new electrical, new plumbing, new front stairs, new mechanical, repair siding, replace all windows, new floor, new drywall. (Apparently, I’m superman).
August 7th, 2008 - I am informed that I own the house. Pulling records, the title shows that I owned it on the 4th - the day before my conversation with the city. Wish I could explain that, but I can’t.
September 12th, 2008 - Permit issued
October 10th, 2008: I’m granted an extension until 2/19/09. I asked for more time, but was denied.
February 10, 2008: Granted an extention until July 19th, 2009. I asked for more time, but was denied.
Week of August 3rd, 2009: CRAP! I lost track of which month was which, and I blew my deadline. My deadline passed 15 days earlier. I go in to see Kim Nguyen in person. I am informed "You signed a legal doucment. you missed your deadline. You have lost your bond. " Me: "Okay, what’s my next step?" Kim: "No next step. Now, fines come." Fine. I immediately place a request to speak to Isaac Wilson, who promptly emerges from behind the counter to talk to me. I ask him what next. "Well, you’re past your deadline (at this point I’m 9 months into a project that would take an experienced builder at least a year). Your bond is forefit, so now you’re in violation. If you can show me you’re making progress, we’ll just sloooow…it…down." I immediately get my mechanical inspection (8-12-09).
October 12th, 2009: Final inspection passed.
In the meantime, we have this little side drama - I wrote to my supervisor, Nancy Nadel:
Dear Ms. Nadel,
I'm a recent homeowner in West Oakland - and quite happy and pleased
to be here. I'm currently rebuilding XXXX Magnolia street, and I plan to
live here when I'm done. I'm just a hop, skip, and a scramble from
Alliance Metals, so it's shopping cart central, but I'm happy with my
decision. However, during the course of trying to buy and fix the place,
I've run into a persistent roadblock at city hall. I can't imagine that
I'm the only one, and it's a real problem.
The issue is that the city identifies "substandard" dwellings during a
drive-by inspection. Three homes on my block - XXXX, XXXX and XXXX, all
have the same condition placed on them. The problem is that the
inspector who is in charge of "resolving" the issue is very hard to work
with. Right now, XXXX is up for sale. It has been empty for months, and
it's in desperate need of rehabilitation. Just this morning, I spoke to
a couple who is hoping to purchase and fix it. Having been through the
process myself, I know that once you come out the other side, you have
to post a $2,000 bond, pay a few thousand in fines (incurred by the
previous owner), and apply for permits and commit to a schedule. This
inspector - Kim Nguyen - informed the couple that it "could be a lot of
money- $20,000". She refused to calculate the fees, and told the couple
to think "Three times" before purchasing the home. Now they're
reconsidering their purchase, and I know that they've got the money and
the will to do this right. I had similar problems when I bought my
house, which took six weeks (!).
I've written a little about the problem here:
(The first two paragraphs aren’t germane to this issue, but it sure is
and also here:
I’m not sure where else to go with this one; my neighbor is also
engaged with the city, and he’s in a world of hurt - he’s experienced
in the trades, but not very good at dealing with the city. It’s not
unlikely that he’ll end up losing his house over this. However, that’s
not my story to tell.
I’d more than happy to speak to you in more detail. And, to clarify -
this isn’t something that I’m suffering from. My project is proceeding
nicely. This is about Oakland.
Well. 35 minutes after I shoot this little missive off in email, I get a call from an enraged
Kim Ngyuen. 45 minutes of yelling later, we agree to disagree, and I phone up Carlotta Starks,
Nancy Nadel's assistant. Apparently she wanted to verify what was going on with the City of
Oakland, and sent a note to CEDA, and it took 35 minutes to get to Kim, verbatim.
I thanked Carlotta for screwing my relationship with my inspector, and apparently Carlotta
followed up with CEDA and chastised them for unprofessional behavior. Kim
was - and remains - furious with me. I"m sure that explains the behavior on August 3rd.
Coucilmember Nadel did read the email I sent, and forwarded it to the
inspector who I named. Needless to say, the inspector called me up,
hopping mad. Unfortunately, this is my inspector for the remainder of
this project. The inspector and I did discuss the issue, and I stand by
my statements - the city is scaring away potential homebuyers. It’s a
combination of a poor policy and worse communication. The policy isn’t
the inspector’s fault, but her communication is, and I don’t believe
that it’s resolvable.
Any help would be appreciated.
Actually, I forwarded your message to Mr. Fielding with a request for an
explanation of your allegations. (I mentioned in my reply to you that I was
checking your allegations with Code Enforcement.)
To do that should not have caused the inspector to get angry at you or to
retaliate against you. If you feel that there is any retaliation, please
let me know immediately so that we can look into it.
Carletta L. Starks
Community Liaison/Policy Analyst for
Councilmember Nancy Nadel, District 3
Impact on me:
I really wanted take my time and put my own sweat into this project. As it is, I did spent a full year working on the house, but that’s just a drop in the bucket given that this is essentially a total rebuild. Net net, I had to pay others for work that I would like to have done myself, because of the fine schedule imposed by the city. How much did this cost? I suppose I could break it out, but I’d say on the order of $150,000.00. Plus the $2K bond the city kept.
You can ask to see any inspector between 8 and 10 am weekdays. Wednesdays are 9 to 11, if I’m not mistaken.
- There is an appeal process. They won’t tell you about it, and you can’t appeal after you sign the compliance plan. They will pressure you with the threat of daily fines to get you to sign that plan. Those fines, if they do materialize, can also be appealed.
- If you’re in a compliance plan, you’ll lose your $2000 bond, if you post one. Kiss it off, it’s gone.
- Stay in regular touch with your compliance officer, especially if you’re going to need an extension.
- Isaac Wilson can be reasonable. If you’re getting nowhere with your compliance officer, ask to speak to him directly. Don’t whine, don’t be shrill, don’t complain. Lay out the steps you’re taking to rectify the situation, and have proof of those steps - in the form of inspections. Photos, promises, and begging don’t count. The only thing that counts is permits and inspections - show progress.
- There are currently loans available to repair "distressed housing". I don’t know the details, but I’m led to understand that if your income is under a certain level, you can apply for these loans. Sadly, that’s all I know about them.
There are "fixers" who will sell their services to you. These people vary in skill level and knowledge. I haven’t met any who aren’t honorable. But they can’t do magic; they’re going to work through the process just like you’ll have to. Their knowledge is of the system - they aren’t leveraging connections within CEDA.
Finally, the Audit Oakland CEDA page is worth reading. They’ve done an awful lot of digging.