SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The owner of a boarded-up house where a woman died in a fire last week admitted to a judge Thursday that he allowed tenants to live there.
Raghvendra "Raj" Singh, 51, requested the court hearing in an effort to regain control of the house at 4510 Stockton Boulevard from a court-appointed receiver who was placed in charge of the property following a long-running battle between Singh and county building inspectors.
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A fire in the house Dec. 5 killed Rosalea Trejo, 35, who was trapped behind boards on the doors and windows.
The court-appointed receiver, J. Benjamin McGrew, said he had made multiple trips to the property, including one on the day of the fire, trying to secure it from trespassers.
Trejo's friends said she and several other people did not consider themselves trespassers because they had been staying in the boarded-up house with Singh's permission.
In an earlier phone conversation with News10, Singh confirmed he had told tenants they could stay there "at their own risk" in an effort to prevent vandalism.
Under direct questioning from Judge David Brown during a 22-minute hearing in the judge's chambers, Singh was initially evasive but eventually acknowledged what he had said to News10.
"It's hard to get, sometimes, a straight answer," said Brown. "Did you permit these folks to be there or not?"
"That's a very tricky question," Singh responded after a long pause. "The answer is yes."
At the end of the hearing, Brown refused to dismiss McGrew as receiver of the Stockton Boulevard house and a boarded-up triplex owned by Singh around the corner on Baker Avenue.
McGrew said he's still evaluating necessary repairs at the triplex, but that the house damaged by the fire will have to be demolished.
Complicating McGrew's efforts to prepare the two properties for sale is roughly $326,000 in federal tax liens against Singh that take priority.
McGrew said he was working with the IRS to subordinate the tax liens on the two properties so that he can obtain financing to make the necessary improvements.
by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net