This Bad House

Page 5 of 7

The upstairs tenants have been evicted, Gerald Meitz tells the board, and Odom is in the process of being evicted, though he's currently in jail. But there's a snag. Odom's girlfriend, Lisa Winston, and their daughter also live there. Meitz attempted a speedy eviction, but Winston wrote the judge asking for more time. "I need to find another place and that takes some time to do," she wrote. "Your honor... this is my responsibility for getting things taken care of." The judge granted a hearing, which slowed the eviction.

Meitz tells the board that he knew there was a problem with drug-dealing at 631 or at one of the two houses he owns across the street. "We'd evicted three or four people in the last four months from those two houses," Meitz explains. "My wife on several occasions talked to police officers asking what could be done. They always told her, "Well, if you've got a problem, evict them.'"

For the most part, board members remain quiet, although at times, Hyman, almost as an aside, asks Addlesberger at her right for his opinion. Wearing glasses that give him the look of an academic, Addlesberger projects as stern an image as the chairwoman.

Hyman asks whether the Meitzes had tried to remove Winston from the apartment. "She'd have to go under [Odom's] eviction," Meitz responds. "We can't just make her leave, because we don't have a rental agreement with her. As the officers will attest to, the fact that she lives there means she needs to be evicted. She can't be told to leave."

When Hyman learns that Meitz has not retained an attorney to carry out the eviction, she becomes slightly agitated. "A suggestion: You need to have a lawyer for this. Because if you're not able to get someone evicted who has no lease with you and has not paid rent and there's illegal activity on the property, then you're not doing something you ought to be doing."

"With all due respect," Meitz fires back, "I've been doing this for 20 years. You can ask any of these officers here. Say I have an apartment that was vacant yesterday and I've got people living there today -- hookers, drug dealers. If an officer comes in and asks, "Do you live here?' and he sees milk in the refrigerator and toilet paper on the wall, he'll turn to me and say, "You need to evict.'"

"Look," Hyman says, cutting him off. "We're not up here to go into a whole lecture on eviction. It's hard for us to believe that you're taking all measures to get them out when this should be a simple eviction." She continues in a new vein. "I think the fact that you don't have a written lease is pretty inexcusable. The condition of the property is not our concern. But the fact you don't have a written lease promotes the kind of tenants you apparently are getting. That's not acceptable to this board. Do you have a minimum rental period, or do you let them come in for any period?"

"Weekly or greater," Meitz answers.

"That's another thing," Hyman barks. "Weekly rentals promote transients -- people who don't have ties to the community."

"Well, this guy's lived in the apartment for ten years," Meitz snaps back.

"Then there's no reason he shouldn't have a lease," Hyman retorts.

"Then there's no reason to think he doesn't have ties to the community," he counters.

"Then he's an exception," she says.

Addlesberger jumps in. "If he's in jail, I don't think he's an exception to the rule."

Meitz's face twists with agitation, and his voice raises. "The fact that he's in jail doesn't have anything to do with what we're talking about here," he snarls. "He could be in there for a... a... motorcycle incident. I don't know."

The board moves unanimously to take jurisdiction of the property for a year, which means if there is even one report of illegal activity, Meitz will be called back before the board for further action, which could include fines and boarding of the building.

Meitz bridles. "I disagree sharply on that. We weren't made privy to any of those busts. Nobody told us that, yes, we know who this is. On the contrary, we told police officers, at least three or four, that we've got a problem back there but we're not sure who it is and can't get rid of them and we'd like you to make a bust."

Hyman interrupts, "One more incident will bring you back before the board. I appreciate that you don't agree with it --"

"I don't," Meitz jumps in. "I think the implication here is that if there's three such incidents that, well, maybe the owner didn't know about the first or even second one but ultimately chose to do nothing. Obviously, we were doing the best to evict these people."

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson