COLORADO CITY, Ariz. – A real estate ad for a recently abandoned home at the Utah-Arizona state line might read something like this:
3 level. 8 bd/8 ba. New carpet, paint. Custom closets, granite window sills. Jacuzzi tubs. 2 kitchens, one per wife. Unfinished bsmt. Fruit rm. Rose garden, wood/coal shed, horse corral, coop. 6 chickens. LOTS of privacy.
Sound attractive? How about this one: A 19-bedroom, 23-bathroom mansion in Hildale with three kitchens, one stocked with commercial-grade equipment. The bathrooms have oversized or Jacuzzi tubs. The living room is large enough to accommodate an orchestra, maybe two.
Both homes, last occupied by relatives of polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, are among a dozen residences recently dumped by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
And Bruce R. Wisan, who is running a property trust set up by the sect, is not sure what he’ll do with either one. The growing stockpile of homes is the latest twist in the standoff between the FLDS and Wisan, who has managed the trust since May 2005. A Utah court placed Wisan over the trust, which holds virtually all land and homes in the twin towns, to protect its assets from litigation targeting the church and its leaders.
But the FLDS have paid little heed to Wisan since the takeover. They’ve been no-shows at three town meetings he set up to share his plans for the trust.
Last year, none of the FLDS faithful paid property taxes on homes they occupy until demand notices threatening eviction were tacked to their doors.
Wisan is reviving that door-to-door campaign again this year. So far, only half of the $602,000 that was due Nov. 1 to Mohave County has been paid. Wisan has six eviction notices ready to send out next week.
More empty homes – and no one to pay taxes on them – may just add to Wisan’s quandary.
He has allowed a dozen or so ex-FLDS members ousted by Jeffs to reclaim homes they proved an interest in or that they built.
“I don’t have any families out there that I’m aware of that would be able to handle that kind of a house,” he said. The 19-bedroom home housed a husband, four wives and 27 children.
Wisan is not just talking family size, however.
There are taxes to be paid and, without a viable claim to a home, Wisan will expect interested parties to pay “some kind of fair market value.” Wisan also has proposed residents pay for property deeds to help cover costs of running the trust; he initially suggested $20,000 but now says the fee will be much lower.
Meanwhile, Wisan is trying to stay positive – and hoping people plan to stay put.
“I am not overly concerned with what we have right now, but if every week I get three or four or five houses then, yeah, I’ll be concerned and have to take a different approach in terms of what I’m doing,” Wisan said. “We don’t have that many requests that if I get 75 empty homes that I’ll be able to fill them all. I’d have to go to Plan B.”
That is, try to pitch the properties to outsiders who are not trust beneficiaries. Would there be any takers?
The FLDS are an insular group who even avoid contact with family members cast out of the faith, which means they aren’t likely to be the friendliest of neighbors.
And there is this: A few of the homes given over to Wisan are definitely fixer-uppers.
Across the street from the deluxe home listed above is a pioneer home vacated months ago. It looks OK from the outside but time, neglect and vandals have taken a toll.
It has a fairly standard setup: two kitchens, two living rooms, eight bedrooms and three bathrooms.
“This is at least a three-wife home,” said Isaac Wyler, an ex-FLDS member who works for Wisan, as he wandered from room to room taking inventory.
Broken glass, sheetrock and red dirt litters the basement rooms. Upstairs, children’s scribbles are visible where wallpaper has peeled away. In one room, vandals have hacked right through a sheetrock wall to expose the adjacent bathroom. Taped to a mirrored closet door in the same room is a paper that says, “Keep Sweet No Matter What. It Is a Matter of Life or Death” – a favorite saying of former FLDS leader Rulon Jeffs, Warren’s father.
On Field Avenue in Hildale there is another vacant seven-bedroom, six-bathroom home that could be a tough sell for Wisan. Man-sized, soon-to-be tumbleweeds have taken over the front yard and a cat has had its way inside the home, leaving piles of feathers everywhere.
There is the usual detritus left behind when people move: pieces from a children’s puzzle, a Sampson the Sheepdog book and old, never opened bank statements. But there are some surprises, too.
One kitchen has been stripped of every appliance and all the cabinets. Yet, an upstairs bathroom opens to a sparkling clean two-person Jacuzzi tub, which looks almost ready for water.
Words written with black marker on the door mirror ask: “Did you think to pray today?”