4 Investigates: Problem house in Rio Rancho

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RIO RANCHO, N.M. — We all want to feel safe in our homes but one Rio Rancho neighborhood has seen that go out the window, all because of a problem home there.

The city is finally stepping in to address the home that’s causing the issues on Sagebrush Court, but neighbors are skeptical.

Back in February, a fire at the home wasn’t necessarily the start of their problems but was an accelerant for it, as neighbors describe.

“At first, I thought it was a hot air balloon flying over my house because that’s what it sounded like,” neighbor Cathy Corbett said. “Then I started smelling it and I went outside and the flames were just bonkers. It just demolished the house, half of the house.”

Rio Rancho Police Officers asked the homeowners where they would go but the homeowner told them she didn’t know.

“There were definitely people living inside [for months] after the fire,” said John Schaaf, another neighbor who lives near the home.

The fire didn’t deter unwelcome guests, Cathy says. If anything, she believes it invited even more guests and opened the shed behind the home to all sorts of troublesome business that was captured on camera.

At all hours of the day and night, strangers are seen walking through the side yard to the backyard. Over and over, Cathy sees people hopping the fence from one shed to another – some of them even stopping for bathroom breaks in front of her son’s bedroom.

There’s so much traffic that she says her son and grandkids can’t even play outside.

“I was a cop a long time ago,” Shaaf said. “We would have never allowed it in the old days.”

Rio Rancho Mayor Greggory D. Hull says there’s a process for damaged structures and the city can’t just assume ownership.

“I don’t know that they were ‘allowed’ to live there,” Mayor Hull said. “Sometimes, people will vacate the property and we think it’s vacated and they come back in without our knowledge.”

As the neighborhood tried to get something done, it went from bad to worse: In between almost a dozen 911 calls to the police this year, the home caught fire again.

“The structure was red-tagged as unsafe to occupy by city staff on September 14. The property has failed to be secured and cleaned up by the property owner and, since the second fire, the property owner has been unresponsive,” Deputy City Manager Peter Wells said during a governing body meeting in late October.

“I think it needs to be torn down. If the landlord won’t do it, then that’s the job of the government to step in and render things safe,” Schaaf said.

We ran into the property owner in front of her house. She had no clue her home was heading toward demolition.

“As a community, we do try to be somewhat compassionate. In this particular case, somebody lost their home and we don’t know that they had the means,” the mayor said. “Obviously, they didn’t have the means to repair it, fix it and replace it, so we’re at a place now where we have to take action as a community to clean it up and make it safe for the community.”

That’s where it’s headed now. Rio Rancho city councilors have approved a $20,000 budget adjustment to demolish the property and put a lien on it.

Nine months after the first fire, it seems like the only solution neighbors have seen.

While Cathy is hopeful, she said that she’ll believe it when the security camera alerts finally stop ringing.

City officials will start by fencing off the property. The demolition will follow and could take about three weeks.