"You are hereby notified that in the above-entitled cause a writ of possession has been issued, commanding me to take possession of the premises occupied by you as indicated above, and that I shall, if ordered by the plaintiff, proceed on any weekday...to execute said writ, remove any personal property found thereon and take possession of the premises. THIS IS YOUR LAST NOTICE."
On a Saturday morning in early February, the residents and families living in 26 units of an apartment building in our neighborhood found this notice in their mailboxes. They were being told that within four days they could all be evicted from their homes by the U.S. Marshals Service.
A pile of some tenant's possessions stacked up on a sidewalk has become a too-familiar sight in our neighborhood. This eviction notice, and the prospect of being forced out of the apartment building, was merely the latest round in a battle for their homes that the tenants have waged for seven years.
The tenants' legal troubles began in 1979 when building owner H & M Bernstein, claiming "hardship," went to court for a 28 percent rent increase. Mr. Bernstein said that current rent payments were not sufficient to maintain and operate the building. The residents countered by filing a petition with the Rental Accommodations Office (RAO) and asked that the building's housing code violations be repaired before paying higher rents.
In 1983, when local housing inspectors finally examined the building, they found more than 500 violations. The RAO officials sided with the tenants and ordered that rent levels be rolled back. But the tenants' efforts to keep their homes were only just beginning.