Neighbors upset burned house still stands 3 years later

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – Residents in one Rio Rancho neighborhood have been forced to live next to an abandoned, fire-ravaged home for the last three years – all because of a legal battle between the city and homeowners.

“It’s pretty disheartening because that’s our view from the back of the yard,” said resident Teresa Martinez. “We see it every morning. We see it every night when we are going to bed.”

The two-story home sits on the corner of Union Drive and Quay Drive. In May 2011, a large fire started in the garage and quickly torched the entire structure, even igniting a car that was sitting in the driveway. Fire officials still don’t know what caused it.

More than three years later, the house is still standing. No fence secures the property. Boards that covered the garage area appear to have been torn down. Inside, remnants of children’s toys and clothes are scattered everywhere.

For years, neighbors have complained about debris blowing into their yards on windy days and unwelcome guests loitering on the abandoned property.

“It’s all daytime, nighttime, doesn’t make a difference. They’re here,” said Larry Casias, who lives next door. “Gamut of ages come here. Drugs, alcohol, sometimes they have little parties.”

Residents also said the eyesore has hurt their property values.

“I tried to do a refinance and banks just said the property value had gone down,” said Martinez. “A few neighbors in the community were trying to sell their homes as well and some of them are vacant and some other ones just had to rent, but nobody wants to come in and live near this home.”

But there have been no plans to tear down the structure because the home is considered “evidence” in a lawsuit that homeowners Chris and Lisa Lopez brought against the City of Rio Rancho. They are suing for negligence, claiming crews were at a charity event and took too long to respond to the house fire. According to the lawsuit, there also was no water pressure in the fire hydrant near the house, further delaying firefighting efforts.

The city denies those allegations. City Spokesman Peter Wells told KRQE News 13 in a statement that “until the lawsuit is resolved or the plaintiff attorney gives permission for the city to proceed with removal procedures, the property will remain as is.”

Wells also said the city’s insurance “submitted a request this week to the plaintiff’s attorney seeking permission for the city to proceed with removal procedures.”

A Rio Rancho police spokesman also said it will step up patrols in the neighborhood.

The Lopezes declined an on-camera interview for this story but said they are still recovering emotionally and financially from losing everything. They said they would feel uncomfortable tearing down the house until the lawsuit is settled.

Neighbors sympathize with the family but said they’ve waited long enough.

“I’m sick and tired of this,” Casias said. “We wish something could happen, but there’s nothing we can do. One voice doesn’t carry very far.”

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