GILFORD — From an attorney’s perspective, the decision to evict a low-income resident who has failed to follow the rules is a simple case to prove on its merits. The evictee, however, has a different perspective, and so does his boss.
“Sometimes people don’t know their rights and how to help themselves,” said Marc Bourgeois, a partner at Gilford Hills Tennis and Fitness, where Edward Matthews is employed. “If I have a problem and don’t have enough knowledge, I call an attorney, but some don’t have the resources to do that. If you can afford the proper attorney, you’ll have the clout to get what you deserve.”
Matthews did not have that clout, and did not realize he was heading for homelessness when he balked at a parking change in the Old Lakeshore Cooperative manufactured home park. The dispute culminated with a Belknap County Sheriff’s deputy ordering him off the property three days after Christmas.
Matthews is living with his sister while he awaits some resolution to his dilemma.
Paperwork in Belknap County Superior Court shows that Matthews has resided in the park since 1996, prior to its becoming a cooperative in 2004. Matthews’ troubles began in 2017, after an elderly couple moved in next door.
According to Matthews, he got along fine with his new neighbors for about three years, “but after a few years, they decided one [parking] space wasn’t good enough for them.”
Matthews does not drive, but the parking spot in front of his home was used by visitors. In the Coop’s filings, it stated that, by parking in front of Matthews’ home, the visitors’ cars blocked in the neighbors’ car so it could not be moved. The couple approached Coop leadership, which asked Matthews to have his guests park elsewhere.
“I don’t have a driver’s license, so they felt it was OK to take everything from me,” Matthews said in an interview.
“One day, a year ago this past October, a couple of board members came to my door and said the fire department said it had to be no parking there. I asked to see it in writing, but they never produced anything,” Matthews said.
Court documents state, “Ultimately, following a discussion of the issue of parking at the Cooperative’s Annual Meeting of all members, the Cooperative adopted a new ‘no parking zone policy’ on November 9, 2017. The new policy was announced at the board meeting of November 9, 2017, and incorporated into the board minutes of that date.”
The filing continued, “The Cooperative adopted the new no parking zone after consultation with the Town of Gilford’s Fire Chief and the Cooperative’s attorney, who both indicated that the new no parking zone would be an effective and reasonable method of addressing the dispute while at the same time, providing reasonable and adequate parking for all concerned and while observing life/safety issues, including emergency access issues and handicapped parking access.”
“They decided to paint no-parking lines in front of my home,” Matthews said. “I talked to the fire department, and they never said it had to be done.”
Refusing to acknowledge the new rule, Matthews continued to allow his guests to park in the space he had used for more than 20 years, despite the availability of parking in a median area “probably only about thirty to forty feet from [Matthews’] home,” according to the court document.
Coop attorney Jonathan Springer also noted that Matthews has a covered carport at the back of his home, which he uses to store firewood. The carport could have accommodated his guests, Springer maintained.
As a result of his refusal to agree with the no-parking zone, the Cooperative scheduled an expulsion hearing to revoke Matthews’ membership privileges. Members pay $430 per month for lot rental, while non-members are required to pay an additional $100 per month.
Matthews did not have an attorney present for the Jan. 23, 2018, hearing, and he submitted no documentation to support his position. On Jan. 26, the board notified Matthews that his membership had been revoked and that he would be required to pay $530 per month for lot rental.
“All voted in favor of taking my membership, so I would have to pay an extra $100 per month, just because I didn’t agree with the parking policy,” Matthews said. “Everyone was staying away from parking there, but because I didn’t agree, they took it away anyway.”
Matthews refused to pay the extra $100, continuing to pay rent at the old rate of $430, and after two months, the Coop started court proceedings to evict him from the park, he said.
“I honestly don’t know to this day,” Matthews said. “Either Laconia District Court thought the Coop owned my home, and that’s why they gave them a writ of possession, or they didn’t care if I had my home over 20 years.”
Matthews hired attorney Patrick Carron when he realized he might be evicted from his home, and Carron filed a petition for Equitable and Injunctive Relief and Damages on Aug. 27.
“Virtually everyone in the said manufactured housing park can park next to their doorway, but not Petitioner, who could before Defendant decided otherwise,” Carron wrote.
“The reason for said eviction action was for nonpayment of rent,” he continued. “The hearing on that said writ was held on August 23, 2018, before Judge Carroll, who made it clear to Petitioner and his Counsel the Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction to rule in equity in any matter. The issues presented in this Petition have not been litigated in any legal forum.”
Carron asked for an injunction to prevent the Cooperative from removing the mobile home from the lot, and the court has scheduled mediation for March 15.
Matthews said, “We went to court one time. I didn’t get to be heard or defend myself in Laconia District Court. What the court did was it started having me go to district court every week and make payments at the courthouse. Then, in December, when I was about to make my regular weekly payment, they refused to take my money, and said the court granted a writ of possession.”
While Matthews believes the payments he was making would catch up with what he owed the Cooperative, Springer said it is too late to reverse course now. He said the matter has been litigated in district and superior courts, and it even went to the state Supreme Court, where the arguments were rejected.
“It was examined in detail by all those courts, and soundly rejected every single time,” Springer said. “We’re now moving forward with the writ of eviction.”
Springer continued, “It’s still true that he has a home. He was expelled from his home, and we have a writ of possession now, but a writ of possession does not give us ownership. It means that now we can notice it for public sale. At this point, he has no option but to sell.”
That is where Bourgeois – Matthews' boss – stepped in. Bourgeois confirmed last week that he has purchased the mobile home so Matthews will not lose it.
The next step is uncertain. The Coop has asked that the home be removed from the lot, but Bourgeois said moving it would be difficult.
“At the time he moved it onto the lot, all those homes had to cut the tongue off,” Bourgeois said. “And who knows what the suspension is like?”
Bourgeois has some attorneys with the McLane law firm looking into options, but Springer said there’s no pathway open to Matthews now.
“The Cooperative’s actions had been scrutinized by three different courts — district, superior, and supreme — and all said the Coop is within its legal rights and has done everything correctly,” Springer said. “Mr. Matthews has had numerous opportunities to cure the problem, and he has refused to do so.”
Carron did not return calls seeking clarification about what his next step might be.
For Bourgeois, it is a matter of fairness.
“I’m doing what I can to try and help him. I can’t believe nothing could be solved to allow a person to keep living in his home,” he said. “I can’t believe people would be that mean. There’s got to be a better way to resolve it."