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Dale Avenue woman experiences 'landlord hell'
With every room inside of her Dale Avenue rental home trashed and the backyard covered in an astounding mound of garbage, Sheilah Bruton's first experience as a landlord has been an unmitigated disaster.

The 70-year-old Ceres resident is faced with months of clean-up of the only home she owns, an effort that could cost her plenty.

"It's just been a nightmare of a roller coaster ride," said Bruton. "This is just frustrating me so. In the last three months I've lost about 30 pounds over this situation. I've been dealing with this for a year."

She still has wits about her to issue warnings to others who have ever thought about renting their homes: do background checks of any potential renter. Bruton failed to do one, instead relying on the good recommendation of a friend. Because the woman was the daughter of a well-respected former Ceres police sergeant, Sheilah figured her new renters were safe.

"(My friend) recommended them. She said, 'They're really struggling. They're getting their life back together. They're not drinking, not doing drugs. They've been straight' and all this. I was asked to give them a chance to get back on their feet."

She admits her failure to conduct a background and/or credit checks on the couple was a huge mistake.

"I didn't do that and that's where I made the mistake. I'm a caregiver by trade and I was just trying to help the kid and this is the thanks I got."

Mrs. Bruton left her house - which she moved in during 1964 with husband Whitey -because she was needed as a live-in caregiver in the northwest. The Social Security recipient decided to rent her house for nine months starting May 2011. After three months of receiving monthly rental payments of $750, the couple stopped paying.

"I was in Vancouver, Wash., and they wouldn't answer my phone calls. Neither one would answer their phone."

Bruton tried to evict her renters the first time but a judge rejected the case in December because of an error believed made on the eviction form. After hiring Credit Bureau Associates to conduct the eviction, Bruton finally got the couple out of the house.

When she entered the house on April 24 she couldn't believe her eyes. Every room was trashed. Approximately $15,000 worth of antiques she left in the house has either sold or trashed. The backyard is an unbelievable collection of trashed items, most of it brought in by the tenants, some of it possibly stolen goods.

"There's not one thing they didn't open and filfer. All the cords were cut off of every appliance. I had an awing over my patio - it's gone. It's insane."

The electricity was off because the electrical service panel had been tampered with, she said. Water service to the home was shut off by the city after the tenants failed to pay the water bill, were shut off and tenants tampered with the meter to get service back up.

The most horrifying discovery was that the cremated ashes of her son, Dennis Bruton, are missing from the home. Mrs. Bruton reported the theft to Ceres police who plan to make an arrest for removing the remains of Dennis Bruton. She learned that her tenants gave the ashes over to a female, a former girlfriend of Dennis Bruton's.

"It's against the law - big time," said Mrs. Bruton.

She feels the damage was a combination of drug abuse, thievery and spite.

Bruton heard that the male tenant was bragging to patrons of Family Pizza that: "The b---- thinks she's going to throw me out and I'm going to fix her house to where it costs her $10,000 to make it rentable."

Bruton said her experience has also taught her that landlords need to performance routine walk-throughs to see the condition of their property.

She feels tenants have more rights than owners.

"It took me a year to get them evicted. It's incredible that they did this and just waltz off with somebody else to tend to it."

Bruton plans to move back in the home once it's cleaned up. How long that takes would be guesswork.

"I only get two days off a week," she said.

As for the couple, Bruton has a judgment for $6,860 for back rent and court costs.

"If they come around me one of us is going to end up in the hospital and the other one in jail and I'll probably be the one in jail."