Contact: Joe Vargo, Perris Public Information Officer
Phone: 951-956-2120

Struggle Against Foreclosed

Joe Kircher

Joe Kircher gets ready to make his rounds looking for foreclosed and distressed properties as a Perris Code Compliance Officer.

Joe Kircher patrols the front lines in Perris’ continuing struggle against foreclosed and abandoned houses.

The former Marine gunny sergeant works as a Code Compliance Officer in the City, and it’s his responsibility to locate distressed properties, work with vendors to get lawns watered and mowed and collaborate with real estate brokers to bring them up to Perris standards so they can be resold. He makes sure eyesores like graffiti are removed, damaged windows and doors are patched and covered and entrances remain locked. Should squatters move into abandoned homes, he and Perris police move quickly to move them out.

Kircher meets with Perris residents regularly to advise them about how to contact authorities should foreclosed homes on their street become problems.

Like other Southern California cities, Perris is feeling the pinch of the subprime mortgage crisis.

But the City is reacting aggressively to the challenge.

In addition to cataloguing foreclosed and abandoned houses, Perris is developing an ordinance to insure foreclosed homes do not become attractive nuisances and havens for criminal activity.

The ordinance, which goes into effect Dec. 1, requires banks or mortgage companies and other property holders to inspect foreclosed homes to ensure that the structure is maintained as a viable dwelling. They must also register the dwelling with the city of Perris no later than 10 days after the filing of the notice of default. The home must be secured, maintained and kept in reasonable condition, to include the lawn maintenance or the property holder is subject to notice and or citation. It must be posted with a sign with contact information in the event that there are issues with the property.

City officials expect to notify real estate agents and Realtors about their obligations under the new ordinance beginning in December.

“The City Council has directed staff to take a proactive and multifaceted approach to deal with the foreclosure problem in the community,” said City Manager Richard Belmudez. “This includes the adoption of an aggressive ordinance, pro-active property abatement and actual acquisition of target properties.   While the problem is not specific to the City of Perris, we are working diligently to make sure the impacts to Perris residents are minimized.”

Joe Kircher

Joe Kircher inspects a lock for damage at a foreclosed residence in Perris.

Kircher’s day begins early when he gets into his city pickup and begins making the rounds. During the course of a typical shift, he might encounter renters facing eviction because their landlords failed to pay the mortgage on the home they are renting. He might meet with residents concerned about graffiti on a vacant house and let them know the city is working to address the concern. He might enter a foreclosed home to make sure no unauthorized people are living inside and to check to make sure no vandalism has taken place.

“I love this job,” said Kircher, 50, who retired from the U.S. Marines after 23 years of service. “I can‘t wait to come to work. You feel like you are making a major difference.  We’re trying to make the lives of Perris residents better.”

On a recent morning, Kircher’s rounds took him from one end of Perris to the other. He began by contacting residents in the Downtown area concerned that their landlord was renting a substandard residence behind their home and tapping into their cable, electricity and water for the unauthorized unit.

Kircher said he already cited the owner, who lives in Los Angeles, several times for violating Perris codes. The latest violation meant the owner had run out of stalling time, and he either had to make necessary improvements or tear the residence down.

Later that morning, it was off to May Ranch, an area of the City hit hard by foreclosures. He looks for the telltale signs of illegal conversions and abandoned houses. Some are easy to spot. Brown grass, piles of newspapers on the front sidewalk, graffiti on walls. He notes all that, making sure to contact vendors to water, clear trash, paint over graffiti. Costs of the cleanup are sent to the banks or mortgage companies that own the distressed residences.

The City’s goal is to address complaints from residents about foreclosed and abandoned homes within 24 hours, Kircher said.

Other unauthorized conversions require a trained eye. Several cars parked on the driveway or in front of a residence can mean someone’s living in the garage. Same for wires running out of garages. Sealed cracks in a garage door also are telltale clues.

Kircher inspects the interiors of homes for signs of squatters. Sometimes he finds damge, like walls kicked in, doors broken, windows smashed, mold on floors caused by intentionally flooding them with water. All must be brought up to Perris City code before the houses can be sold.

Driving in his white City pickup, Kircher encounters residents throughout the day. On a recent morning, several talk to him to voice complaints about shabby-looking homes along their street or to thank him for responding quickly to previous calls for service.

Every time he stops, he takes time to thank people for their concern and assure them the City takes their worries seriously and is working as quickly as possible to address the situation.

Kircher came to the City following his career in the Marines, where he spent 11 years overseas in places like Okinawa. During the first Gulf War in 1990-91, Kircher was assigned to the Third Marine Air Wing, where he served as a communications specialist. He lost his hearing in his right ear as a result of his service. Previously, Kircher also worked for the cities of Oceanside and Vista in San Diego County and as a code enforcement officer with Riverside County.