When residents of the Manhattan Trailer Court on Tonnelle Avenue first received their eviction notices almost two years ago, most wanted compensation for their trailers, which cannot be moved.
Now, the homeowner’s association and their attorney, William Eaton, are starting the battle to purchase the land beneath the trailers, hoping to avoid their scheduled eviction in February of 2010. The trailers cost as much as $40,000 when they were first bought.
This past February, Lynchen Wassil, an Englewood resident and the widow of trailer park owner Julius Wassil, went to Bergen County Probate Court to settle the estate that her late husband left behind between herself and her relatives.
Eaton said that the court-appointed administrator of the estate, Paul Kaufman, and his attorneys made a motion in court to “foreclose the rights of the residents to purchase the park” at this hearing, so that Wassil could authorize the sale the park to a private party.
Even though the homeowner’s association and Eaton were not a part of this case, they opposed the motion because under New Jersey law, evicted residents have the right of first refusal, meaning that when property is being sold, tenants have the first opportunity to purchase it.
The judge refused Kaufman’s motion to authorize the sale of the park, but he did not grant Eaton the right for first refusal because he was not a party in the case.
According to Eaton, the beneficiaries of the estate have already entered into a $5.4 million contract with the construction company Demotrakis to work on the property. He said that when homeowner’s association offered to purchase the property, Kaufman rejected their proposal.
Eaton said that the association has financial backing from Reads USA, a real east advisory and development service that helps finance the purchase of mobile home communities. The homeowners’ association would then own the park, and residents’ rent would help pay the loan, just like a mortgage.
Kaufman said last week that they would be back in court to try to be able to sell the park. He had no comment on other issues surrounding the eviction.
Eaton said that he wanted to transfer the court venue to Hudson County and fight for the residents’ first right of refusal.
Compensation vs. co-op
Residents of the park were mixed last week about what to do.
Some residents said they originally wanted to just sell their trailers and move on with their lives, because they eventually they would be forced off the land anyway.
Others believed that having an independent financer purchase the land on a loan would just increase their rent and make living at the park even more difficult.
“People here are on fixed incomes,” said Roberta Reck. “To pay the debt once we buy the place, the rent is going up to $800 or $1,000 [per month]. People just don’t have it.”
Another resident, Gary Carlson, explained that the homeowners’ association has asked for two $100 payments and some residents have not paid. He said that residents who have not been able to make the second payment should forego their cable bills, because he does not want them to be thrown out “without a word.”
Marion Delaire, the president of the association, said more than two-thirds of the residents of the park are part of the association. She estimated that there are still 60 inhabited trailers and up to 200 people living at the court.
While she said Eaton has done a phenomenal job, she is worried the law could be interpreted against the residents and that they would lose their ability to buy the land beneath their trailers.
“We wanted money; that was what we wanted for our trailers,” said Patricia Brunje, a resident who has forced to step down from the association because her name is not on the deed to the trailer she lives in. “We didn’t want more time. I’m tired of fighting.”
She said that 10 people who were similarly tired of fighting have in the last months abandoned their trailers and left.
Brunje said she was worried that a co-op situation might not be the best for a trailer park.
“I honestly don’t want the trailer park to be sold and I don’t think it should be sold and I know that every person that’s on the homeowners’ association is going to fight tooth and nail for this trailer park to not be sold,” said resident Astrid Hung.
Hung said that it was not a “third-world country” and that her neighbors, some of whom are senior citizens, should not be tossed on the street.
Brunje and Reck both agreed that the recent events have done more to tear the community a part then together. They said that the office has made their lives “miserable” and that the abandoned trailers have sat in disrepair, not only being an eyesore, but creating places for vagrants to break in. The park is right next to a public light rail station.
“I don’t think it’s easy any time you’re fighting a well-established institution.” – Gary Carlson
Town Attorney Herbert Klitzner explained that it would be illegal for the town to get involved in a private dispute. Mayor Nicholas Sacco said that if the residents were evicted, the town would try their best to place them in housing.
Resident Vincent Mosca approached the commissioners and said he and his wife were both experiencing illness, that he was on unemployment and that they just wanted a place to live the rest of their lives together.
Carlson said that the “grumbling” within the community was good, as long as there was a reason behind it.
“I don’t think it’s easy any time you’re fighting a well established institution,” said Carlson. “I think they have the resources to cause dissention.”
Carlson said he does not want to leave the trailer park with “his tail between his legs.”