August 2, 2013

Our View: Couple's eviction raises legitimate concerns

If what a lawsuit says is true, two tenants were removed from their home without due process.

Anne Blake and Kevin McBride used to live in an apartment in Westbrook. Now they live in the woods.

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Anne Blake sits in the camp that’s been her home for the past week after she and her partner were forced out of their Westbrook apartment.

2013 Press Herald File Photo/Gordon Chibroski

On July 9, the couple was served a no-trespass order by Westbrook police and given a half-hour to collect their belongings and leave the premises. They lived in a motel until their money ran out, and then moved out to a wooded area where they've been camping.

Now the city is being sued for its role in this "no-trespass" eviction, and, if the allegations prove true, rightly so. No-trespass eviction does an end run around the legal process in place to evict a tenant from an apartment. If what this couple says is true, police had no reason to step into this landlord-tenant dispute; unfortunately, two people had to lose their home for that point to be made.

Landlords have a right to expect tenants to live up to their end of the deal: The landlord provides a quiet, safe place to live, and the tenant pays the rent on time and keeps the premises in reasonably good condition. If either reneges, the other party has the right to take civil action.

In fact, that's what happened early in this case. Blake was legally evicted from the Westbrook apartment for not paying rent. She contested the eviction, saying the unit was in bad condition, but lost in court.

Advocates say that McBride stayed in the apartment because he was not evicted, and that Blake thought she could stay there as his guest.

The no-trespass order, however, makes it a crime for either Blake or McBride to enter the building. If they violate the order, they'll have a criminal record, which makes it harder to get work, a place to live or help paying for education. A couple who admit they've struggled to make ends meet doesn't need further roadblocks.

There also are constitutional implications. Blake had been been providing day care for her grandchildren, who live with her daughter elsewhere in the same building. The lawsuit alleges that Blake and McBride have been denied their right to freedom of association and assembly with their own extended family.

Most important, the no-trespass order denies McBride his constitutional right to appeal his being barred from his own home, according to the lawsuit.

His name wasn't on the eviction order. McBride is legally entitled to be given warning of the eviction, a chance to contest it and a chance to move his personal effects out of the apartment. He wasn't allowed to exercise any of these rights.

Landlords' frustration at not getting the rent on time doesn't allow them to short-circuit the eviction process. For their part, police officers are supposed to know and uphold the law. In this case, though, they allegedly took the landlords' word for it that McBride and Blake were both lawbreakers. Now the couple are even lower on funds, making it harder for them to afford a place to live. And the sad thing is that it didn't have to be this way.


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