The ongoing legal battle involving residents of the Manhattan Trailer Court, who have faced the possibility of eviction for three years, could soon come to an end if a recent settlement offer is agreed upon. The new offer will soon be extended to the residents later this month. According to a source, the offer includes a $10,000 payout to each tenant, with the condition that each resident must vacate the premises by April of next year. The settlement requires a two-thirds vote from residents in favor to be accepted, and is expected to be voted upon sometime in May.
The matter began in June 2009 when Lynchen Wassil, an Englewood resident and widow of trailer court owner Julius Wassil, went to Bergen County Surrogate Court to settle the estate of her late husband between herself and his other relatives.
“All I know now is that nobody’s happy.” – Former Homeowners’ Association Secretary Gary Carlson
The two sides were unable to reach an agreement. After the talks failed to reach a compromise, Paul Kaufman, a court-appointed administrator for the estate, filed dispossess actions in March 2011 seeking to evict the residents in the Superior Court of Hudson County.
“We had no choice,” said Kaufman at the time.
The Homeowners’ Association then filed a request in January of 2011 with the Superior Court claiming that the owner of the park violated the Mobile Home Protection Act. A Hudson County Superior Court judge recently ruled recently that there were sufficient facts to merit a trial.
According to Jeffrey Beides, an attorney for the trailer court Homeowner’s Association, the Mobile Home Protection Act requires that if an owner intends to offer the property for sale with a change of use in mind, the owner must first meet with residents and give them an opportunity to negotiate a deal. Another section provides that if an owner receives an offer from a third party intending to purchase the land, the owner has to provide the tenants with notice and an opportunity to match that offer.
The land has increased in value over the years due to its close proximity to a relatively new light rail station.
According to residents, previous attempts at reaching a settlement negotiation have failed. Many residents have continually turned down financial offers, instead preferring to remain in the park for as long as possible due to its low tenant fees.
“Obviously, there is a division amongst the residents as to whether they would want to buy [the park] and own it themselves,” said Beides, “or whether they would want to stay as long as they can.” Beides also said that some residents would prefer to take a money offer and leave earlier than they have to.
“The existing notice requires that [the residents] be out by the end of this year,” said Beides, who continued to say that if the developer does not offer comparable housing, tenants could stay until the end of 2013.
A resident with knowledge of the situation said that the case had recently been dismissed without prejudice, meaning it has the potential to be reopened.
Stay or leave
If the new settlement offer is not approved, the case will be reopened.
“The first obstacle is to have the people approve [the settlement],” said Beides, who would not discuss the terms of the offer. “If it’s not approved, [the matter] goes back to the Superior Court in Hudson County.”
Resident and former Homeowners’ Association Secretary Gary Carlson said that he believes the vote will pass next month.
“We got a much better deal last time,” said Carlson, adding that the previous settlement was a few thousand dollars higher. “[However], I think everybody probably would [vote in favor].”
Carlson said that many of the residents are dissatisfied with the ongoing situation.
“All I know now is that nobody’s happy,” Carlson continued. “At this point, it’s pretty much take it [the money], or leave it. I think people would take the [offer] because it seems so hopeless.”
Carlson also said that he plans to vote against the settlement.
“I would like to stay here for as long as I can,” said Carlson. “I think we have a good deal and being here saves a lot of money on rent. I don’t think I’ll be on the winning side, however.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.