I will tell you what happened when John opened the closet door. Next week. Because I want you to keep reading this blog! I don’t want you to lose interest in Ginger Snapped when I tell you the news:
We are not going to sue the city of Wilkes-Barre over the One Strike Law. At least, not this time. The owner of 110 Madison Street does not want to go through a lengthy expensive law suit. And that’s his call to make. Not mine. Not my circus, not my monkeys. I keep telling myself that. Last week I wrote a sermon about standing up to bullies, and sometimes the only way to do that is with a good left hook to the stomach. All this week I’ve been walking around like someone punched me in the gut.
Deep down I know he’s making the right decision. We made a mistake when we didn’t take those boys to eviction court over the accidental firearm discharge inside the apartment. The cops told my husband no crime had been committed. The boys’ father vowed a legal battle. It seemed easier to just let the last 6 weeks of the lease run out and not renew.
Had an eviction been on file when the apartment was raided three weeks later, would we still have been shut down? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? The police weren’t even there for them. They were there to question the 3rd floor tenant about her grown son, who is a wanted fugitive or something. A son she claims she hasn’t seen in 13 years. The dumbass on the second floor was smoking so much marijuana the smell permeated the hallway, so his door got knocked on and the cops caught him filling baggies.
We are handing over the management of this building to someone else. I am not too proud to admit that Madison Street is a bit above my pay grade.
This isn’t over. GPGH Management still exists. We have ownership interest in all the properties we manage – 29 units across 13 properties now. 4 of those properties are in the city of Wilkes-Barre. 14 apartments that could be shut down by One Strike at any moment, for reasons over which we have very little, if any, control. We already have a lawyer lined up who will, at one word from me, jump all over this like a drug dealer’s pitbull. Part of me actually HOPES they One Strike one of my properties. The crazy part.
Recovering, reconsidering, regrouping. That’s what I’ve been doing this week. It amazes me how exhausted I am. This must be how a boxer feels when the opponent knocks the wind out of him with a side punch. I started something here and I know I need to finish it. We just found out on Monday that our attorney could not represent us in the case – he’d have to represent the owner. And the owner does not want to sue the city. He never did! This was all my crazy idea. Wasn’t there an animated commercial for toothpaste or something, back in the ‘80s, of a guy on a horse tilting at windmills with a giant toothbrush? That’s me.
I have vowed to learn from this experience. Now that I’ve caught up on the sleep stolen by anxiety I’m starting to think a little more clearly.
Operating our rental business in a highly protective manner. We have a pretty good system of background checks in place already. In fact, the tenant caught filling baggies with pot on Madison Street had a squeaky clean criminal background – it was his brother who had the misdemeanors. The brother was at work at the time of the raid and was not charged with anything. We had another one who worked for UPS - a good job, with random drug testing. Of course no criminal background to speak of! Arrested for drugs – thankfully not on our property! There really is no way to predict who is and who isn’t a potential criminal who is going to get you shut down. And once they’re in your house, there isn’t much you can do to get them out.
Evicting the third floor tenant with the fugitive son. After we learned the police were at 110 Madison that night (flanked by Code Enforcement with their One Strike shut-down notices to hang on the door) for the third floor tenant, we filed eviction against her. The last thing we needed was another unit shut down in the same building! Here’s what happened – the judge threw it out! Didn’t even want to hear about it. You cannot evict a tenant on “suspicion” they might be doing something wrong. The only thing we had on her was that she was behind on her rent. We won the eviction based on that. She’s taking the eviction notice to a local agency for some help. If the back rent gets paid, she gets to stay. Keep in mind, this is a woman who works in a nursing care facility, clean background, random drug tests at work. She says she hasn’t seen her fugitive son in 13 years. At what point do our efforts to protect ourselves from One Strike become harassment?
In the throes of my exhaustion Thursday night I got a call on my cell from a Madison Street neighbor, complaining the third floor tenant was on the porch, AGAIN, smoking marijuana and there were children present. We’ve talked to her about this, she says she smokes cigarettes on her porch, and the neighbors don’t like her because she’s black. I told the neighbor about what happened with the judge the last time we tried to evict her on suspicion of illegal activity. You can’t do that? Really? Nope. You can’t. So call the police if you want to. If the building gets One Striked a second time maybe the owner will change his mind about suing.
Landlord tales from the street
I am counting the days until 110 Madison Street is out of my life. This is beyond my experience and level of expertise! I have never been in a situation where the neighborhood has deteriorated so much that neighbors are suspicious of neighbors. Every strange car that drives down the street is a drug transaction unless proven otherwise – including my Prius! The Mayor blames the landlords. Which is funny because I blame the Mayor and his piss-poor leadership. He’s never done a damn thing for the city neighborhoods. Why do you think the drug trade is so rampant in the city – we’re easy pickings! We have a Mayberry RFD police force who’s never dealt with professionals like these. And we have a lot of willing costumers. I’m not talking about the black and brown people moving up from the cities – I’m talking about the white Eastern European sons and daughters of King Coal who have lived here for generations. Addiction is a huge problem in NEPA and has been since I moved here in 1996. Probably way before then, too.
I wasn’t afraid of Madison Street, because I had been through Grove Street, and survived. When we first purchased our double block home on Grove, both sides were rented. The first floor to a group of heroin addicts. The second floor to an alcoholic who had fallen hard off the wagon. Neither one paid their rent. We evicted the alcoholic and she stayed until the constable escorted her out the door. We offered to pay the heroin addicts $400 cash for their used appliances if they would just leave. They were out by the weekend.
The first floor we rented to a nice family. I was sure we were going to lose them when there was a murder right in front of the house a month after they moved in. They think it was gang-related. I remember the news coverage with our house right in the camera shot, behind the reporter. Hoo boy! But our tenants were from Elizabeth, NJ and they’d seen worse. So they stayed.
The second floor we rented to a woman who moved in with her disabled mother and 8-year-old daughter. The homeowner next door knew her – gave her a big hug and me a wink. Rent it to this one. So I did. And then the nice family started complaining about the traffic. Cars stopping at all hours of the day and night. And so began the saga of Janelle Janelle the Tenant from Hell.
So many complaints. No evidence. Cops were watching the house. And one day I showed up to pick up the rent – late again as usual. Four US Marshalls marched across the front lawn to my car, “are you Janelle?!” “No, I’m the landlord. Does Janelle have to move?” No – they wanted to ask her a few questions about a man wanted for a murder. He stabbed a kid in the neck outside an after hours nightclub. I was still working for WKRZ at the time and had read that news story on the radio that morning! They had reason to believe he’d been staying here.
The murderer on the couch was the last straw. “You can’t evict me for that!” “No, Janelle, I can’t. So I’m evicting you for dog shit.” I took pictures of the crap all over the lawn she never picked up. Good bye, Janelle! Boy was she mad.
So keep reading this blog! I have so many stories to tell. And the One Strike fight isn’t over yet, either. Now that I’ve had my recovery sleep and Steve has taken our 5-year-old out to give me a Saturday morning of sweet solitude, I’m feeling much better. Even starting to get some of that self-righteous anger back! Which is an improvement over the way I felt all week – like one of Tom Brady’s footballs.
Check in next Sunday to find out what happens when John the maintenance man opens the closet door in the deceased tenant’s apartment…