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April 16, 2014

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Unwanted trade: Boarders for group home residents

Switch cuts short neighbors’ rejoicing

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Tiffany Brown

Eagle Ridge Manor, once a trouble-prone group home in the northwest Las Vegas Valley, has been turned into a boardinghouse since losing its business license after neighbors complained.

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Joyce Sportsman, who lives two doors down from Eagle Ridge, says the property is a nuisance to her neighborhood. She has little recourse because boardinghouses do not need business licenses to operate.

The neighbors of Eagle Ridge Manor, a trouble-prone group home for the elderly and the mentally ill, successfully petitioned county commissioners to revoke the home’s business license in March.

But their activism has crossed paths with the old saw about being careful what you wish for.

The home’s owner turned it into a boardinghouse. Neighbors say problems have continued, the most notable recent example being a dead body that turned up this month at the home, apparently the result of a prescription drug overdose.

Today the neighbors are asking themselves what they’ve created.

Despite its rather lofty name, Eagle Ridge Manor is a simple five-bedroom, single-family home tucked into a residential cul-de-sac in the northwest part of the valley.

For years, it’s been an irritant to neighbors. A registered sex offender lived there briefly and occasionally begged for change at the private school behind the home, according to school officials. State regulators found problems with how the home managed patients’ medications.

And many neighbors tell horror stories about the home. Perhaps the strangest: An Eagle Ridge resident allegedly forced her way into a neighboring home and began baking brownies in the kitchen.

Alegria de Venecia, who lives at the house and manages it for her son, was dismissive of most of the complaints when she appeared before Clark County commissioners in March. She said she moved out the sex offender when she discovered his background and corrected the mistakes found by state regulators. Her neighbors lacked evidence for most of their allegations, she said.

The commissioners, though, sided with the neighbors and closed the group home, ordering the tenants out within 20 days. The neighbors celebrated their victory with hugs and tears outside commission chambers.

Those neighbors now are wondering whether their celebration was premature.

De Venecia has turned Eagle Ridge into a boardinghouse, renting rooms for $400 a month, primarily to the homeless.

As a result, neighbors say, the problems have amplified.

“The situation has just gotten worse,” said Joyce Sportsman, who lives two doors down from the home.

Two weeks ago, she said, her 17-year-old son and his friend had to fend off with a stick an Eagle Ridge resident who jumped out from behind a bush to accost them. De Venecia denies the man was her tenant.

A few days later, neighbors found police cars and ambulances parked in the cul-de-sac after a 32-year-old tenant died in one of the home’s bedrooms. Police found the man on the floor with foam coming out of his nose and mouth. The man had in his possession an empty bottle of hydrocodone prescribed to someone else, police said.

“It’s insanity that this can go on,” Sportsman said. “Now people are dying.”

But there’s little Sportsman and her neighbors can do because boardinghouses — unlike group homes — do not require business licenses or visits from regulators.

“It’s an absolute nightmare,” said Karen Butta, another neighbor. “Now she is taking in the homeless with no background checks.”

De Venecia acknowledged that she doesn’t ask her tenants too many questions. “If they are just renting, I don’t go too much into their personal business,” she said.

De Venecia is striking back at the neighbors. She said she called the county last week to allege that the Butta family is illegally running a landscaping business out of its house. The county’s public response office found a commercial vehicle parked in the driveway and asked that it be moved, and it was.

For their part, Sportsman and Butta aren’t giving up. They are distributing disposable cameras to neighbors and asking them to document the numbers and characters of the home’s tenants. Call it guerrilla activism.

The idea is to establish a case against the home. The Eagle Ridge property is zoned residential, so it is prohibited from housing more than four occupants in addition to the owner and his or her relatives. Sportsman and other neighbors suspect the home is in violation, but de Venecia says she has only three tenants, one of them a relative.

A county public response officer visited the home recently and found evidence of four tenants — one more than de Venecia told the Sun about but still below the legal limit.

The fourth tenant was the one who died, de Venecia said.

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