ADDRESS: 11606 NE Sandy Blvd.
YEAR BUILT: 1934
SQUARE FOOTAGE: 2,254
MARKET VALUE: $693,570
OWNER: Renaissance Properties LLC
HOW LONG IT’S BEEN EMPTY: 4 years
WHY IT’S EMPTY: A fire and no insurance money
Deep in Northeast Portland along Sandy Boulevard sits a small, gray concrete block building on a large lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. One side of the lot is shielded from view by a line of tall, unkempt hedges, and the rest is scattered with debris. Black chunks of charred wood are what remains of an old house that burned down in 2020.
Sheila Laplante, an owner of the vape shop next door, says that other than a short-lived attempt at cleanup, and the installation of the protective fence, the lot has sat in this state of disrepair since the fire.
The buildings that once stood at this address were zoned for both commercial and residential use. Starting in 2009, the building was rented by a landscaping business called Serenity Landscapes, according to state documents. A sign on the concrete building suggests it may have also been used by a car detailing company. In 2017, the land was sold to Renaissance Properties LLC, whose only registered agent is Saul Valdez.
Valdez lives in Vancouver, Wash., and is the registered agent for three limited liability companies. Renaissance Properties remains active in Washington but was dissolved in Oregon in 2018, just after acquiring the lot at 11606 NE Sandy Blvd.
Valdez tells WW he had interest from a number of tenants and even considered setting up an office for one of his own businesses in the building. The May 31, 2020, fire put an end to that idea—and launched a legal saga.
On July 10, 2020, Valdez sued Nationwide Insurance, which had declined to pay an insurance claim, in Multnomah County Circuit Court for breach of contract. The insurer said Valdez had misrepresented the state of the property when he purchased his insurance policy. The suit was eventually moved to federal court, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Youlee Yim You ruled in favor of Nationwide last September.
Portland Bureau of Development Services spokesman Ken Ray says the city began receiving repeated complaints about unsanctioned camping on the property in 2020. In February 2021, Valdez installed a 6-foot chain-link fence around the lot and secured the remaining building. BDS says the owner is in contact with Portland police and Metro to keep the site clean and secure.
“BDS continues to receive periodic complaints about the property, and the lien placed on the property for BDS’s enforcement fees currently stands at $59,828.60, growing monthly,” Ray said via email.
Renaissance also owns the lot across Northeast 116th Avenue, which holds a garage that was once used as a repair shop and three rental properties that Valdez has been struggling to empty. Valdez says he recently evicted tenants that refused to pay rent. State records show the most recent eviction was just four months ago.
The garage is also empty, which Valdez tells WW is the result of a load-bearing beam in disrepair. “There was no other choice but to have [tenants] removed so that we can make some repairs or to keep it vacant, as the city requested,” he says.
A city inspector found in 2018 that structural beams were either cracked or bowing inward. As a result, Valdez cannot rent out the property to any new tenants.
County records show Valdez is three years behind on property taxes for that lot—and didn’t pay taxes for the burned-out parcel last year.
He has other troubles. Last month, he pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud charges stemming from a Vancouver business called Conexión Latina. “Saul Valdez was an unlicensed tax preparer who led his immigrant customers to believe he was filling out their tax forms correctly,” wrote the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Washington in a statement. “Instead, from 2016 through 2018, Valdez inserted a variety of false deductions and expenses on tax returns, lowering the customers’ tax obligations.”
Those false deductions left his clients liable for back taxes and resulted in a tax loss of almost $1.3 million between 2016 and 2018. Valdez faces three years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced in August.
Valdez says he was helping community members who struggled to understand their tax forms: “What they said was that I was reporting unallowable expenses for my clients, and I don’t believe that to be true. But there’s only so much you can do.”
Every week, WW examines one mysteriously vacant property in the city of Portland, explains why it’s empty, and considers what might arrive there next. Send addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org.