Facing eviction from their longtime homes, Manhattan Trailer Court residents expressed a range of emotions at the North Bergen Commissioner’s Meeting on Wednesday.
At the meeting held on Jan. 27 – days before a Jan. 31 eviction deadline from developers who want to buy the property – the tenants questioned whether the township had done enough on their behalf.
“We’re fighting billionaires,” said Vincent Mosca, the court’s Homeowner’s Association president the day before the meeting. “People want to redevelop in a recession. That’s not right.”
Township officials have said they are doing everything within their power to allow the residents to remain in their homes as long as possible. On Jan. 26, town officials handed out letters to residents saying: “The developer has informed us that he is willing to allow present tenants to remain in your homes until such time as the property is to be redeveloped.”
“If you cannot succeed in court, you will be moving.” – Mayor Nicholas Sacco
“They understand that because of the economy now, it doesn’t make sense to go forward with the development, so we’ve convinced them to leave the people there for now,” said Town Attorney Herbert Klitzner at Wednesday’s meeting.
Mayor Nicholas Sacco said that the town has another meeting scheduled with the purchasers, Manhattan MTC Associates, LLC this week.
However, he said that the town does not know when residents will be asked to leave or whether they will receive relocation funds. The town said they have suggested that the developers offer the funds to tenants, but cannot force them to do so.
216 units allegedly planned
Lynchen Wassil, an Englewood resident and widow of trailer court owner Julius Wassil, went to Bergen County Surrogate Court last year along with relatives, to settle the estate of her late husband.
When the court-appointed administrator of the estate, Paul Kaufman, and his attorneys went to court in June of 2009, they made a motion to get an “order declaring that the rights of the tenants have been extinguished.”
Homeowners Association lawyer Jeffery Beides said the $5.5 million contract to sell the court to the developers was approved by the courts. He said the contract among the interested parties, including Bergen County developer James Demetrakis, is contingent on the developers getting approval from the town to build 216 residential units.
So far, the project has not been brought before the town’s planning or zoning board, so theoretically, the sale is not complete.
However, the estate’s administrator and the town say the property has indeed been sold.
Kaufman has said in the past that the developers are working on a developer’s agreement to submit to North Bergen.
Beides said that if they are approved for more units, the contract allegedly increases the purchase price by $400,000 a unit.
The contract is also contingent on the residents vacating the property, said Beides.
The Homeowner’s Association says that the homeowners should have been given the chance to purchase the properties, but the courts ruled that they didn’t notify the courts in time.
Could be locked out
Klitzner said that after the tenants formed their association and hired their own lawyer, the town’s ability to negotiate for them was taken out of their hands. He said it is now a matter for them to settle in court and that the town cannot help them on the municipal level because aspects of the case have been decided by a Superior Court judge.
Beides said he is waiting to see if their notice of tenancy termination is brought to court and changed into an eviction notice by a judge. The residents would be locked out of their homes after eight days of the notice, but the judge could grant them of up to six months of a hardship stay. He hopes to have the case transferred out of tenancy court, but is not sure which side will file first.
Until something changes, residents can stay as long as they have not violated their leases, such as by not paying rent.
Township officials said that they had been negotiating with the developer to have the tenants live rent free, but that they were not successful. Residents expressed fear of this plan, believing that they would lose some of their rights by doing so.
“The town stepped in as we told you we would and got the owner to back off of the eviction to give you time,” Sacco said at the meeting. “However the realization is that this is going forward. If you cannot succeed in court, you will be moving.”
One resident said during the meeting that they were bound to lose, while another said that they were given “false hope” by the town regarding their ability to fight the case.
Mosca said that collecting funds for their legal fees was becoming increasing difficult because of residents’ fixed incomes, but that he and at least half of the residents are committed to fighting for their homes.
“We just don’t want to be uprooted,” said Mosca. “We want a victory in this.”
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.