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A year of fear and frustration on Fifth Avenue West came to an end on Monday afternoon when an attorney, surrounded by a half dozen law officers, tacked a notice on the front door of a light blue bungalow with white columns.
Attorney Ron Justice made contact with the property owner and got permission to shut down the house and evict trespassers. Justice signed a legal order that authorizes Hendersonville police to arrest anyone found on the property.
“The owner contacted me to assist him in securing the property,” he said.
Officers searched the house and used dogs to look for drugs before ascertaining that no one was inside. Officers called a locksmith to change the locks and for the first time in a long time on Monday night neighbors could sleep a little easier.
“We have had a myriad of calls to the house,” said Police Chief Herbert Blake, who was also at the scene. “We actually met with some of the citizens weeks ago. We hope this will solve the problem. I can say that it looks like we have resolved it.
“Citizen and community involvement led to this,” he added. “They have been concerned and they have been persistent with their concerns to the city.”
Persistent may not be a strong enough word to describe the advocacy of the closest neighbors, who have endured loud fighting, drug use and a parade of vagrants in and around the house for months.
“It’s filthy,” said Laurie Hansen, whose backyard adjoins the backyard of the house at 1014 Fifth Avenue West in the West Side Historic District. “It’s got graffiti all over the house. The inside is filled with clothes and broken down TVs. You can’t even walk through it.”
Neighbors trace the problem to the downfall of Bob Kauss, the 43-year-old son of owner James Kauss, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
Bob Kauss, a factory worker before he got involved in drugs, is currently in the Henderson County jail, awaiting trial on charges for methamphetamine possession, possession of stolen goods and being a habitual felon. He has a long rap sheet dating to 2011 and arrests for drunken driving, trespassing, pot possession and burglary.
“He was a hard working guy and he got busted last year for growing marijuana in the basement,” Hansen said. “He met people in jail that got him involved with meth and while he was in jail he invited all these people from jail to stay at his house. All these people have been coming and going without his knowledge.”
Two months ago Hansen called Chief Blake, who agreed to set up a meeting. Hansen thought maybe a dozen people would show up. Instead, 35 marched into City Hall, forcing officials to move the meeting to the council chambers. Police officers revealed 12 pages of incident reports at the house.
“We told them what was going on there and how tired we were of it,” Hansen said.
District Attorney Greg Newman, who lives three blocks west of what neighbors called “the drug house,” was at the meeting, too. “All they said was, ‘We’re working on it. Be patient.’”
Babs Newton, who lives three houses down across Fifth Avenue, said neighbors were dismayed that nothing could be done. They began to feel that the squatters had more rights than taxpaying homeowners.
“The door was unlocked all the time,” Newton said. “We just asked them, Why can’t you just arrest them?”
Hansen said at one point she offered to take a dog, Roscoe, that no one seemed to be caring for. When she did, vagrants showed up claiming Roscoe was theirs. A police officer sided with the vagrant, she said. “He said, ‘I could arrest you for taking this man’s dog.’ It’s just been a farce, this whole situation.”
On Sunday night Hansen called City Councilman Jeff Miller, who took the complaint to John Connet and encouraged him to get the parties together to shut the house down. By 2 p.m. Justice had the authorization from the property owner to post the trespass warning on the front door.
“You can’t trust the system,” Miller said. “You have to force the issue and if you stand on it hard enough it will happen.”
Although they had not managed to evict the squatters, police officers patrolled constantly, neighbors said.
“Cops were there all the time, every day,” said Jorim Jones, whose house overlooks the blue bungalow. He overheard the argument over the dog and then saw two people load up their backpacks and leave, “being weird and really strange.” Jones, 27, figured “these are just really bad people because we saw cops every day.”
Built in 1885, the 1,470-square-foot home is valued on the tax books at $157,600. Tax records show that Bob Kauss bought it for $220,000 in 2007 and conveyed it to his father in March.
Joshua Galvin, who lives across the street from the bungalow, said he was impressed by the police department’s cooperation.
“I am astonished,” he said. “I just moved here from Charlotte and the cops weren’t nearly as receptive as they are here. These guys have done a great job. It’s been a problem and the cops have been relentless. I have to commend them. They’re doing a great job.”
Since he moved across the street last November, he’s seen and heard the activity.
“People screaming and fights and constantly people in and out at all hours of the day and night,” he said. “You would see cops coming up and people jumping out the windows and running away. You have to realize their hands are tied because of squatters’ rights. They stayed within the letter of the law and got it done.”
Galvin was glad to see the cops finally evict the occupants.
“It’s good for the whole neighborhood to get rid of that house with a bunch of homeless derelict squatters,” he said.