By Arelya J. Mitchell, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief
The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway
How do you get evicted for a water bill? Granted this is a $30,000 water bill which was issued by Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW), but the eviction notice came from the Memphis Division of Public Works Code Enforcement Department. Tenants have until April 11, 2013 to get out. And since they have not had water since January of this year, denying them water has been a means to force them out and to possibly take their homes. For a water bill.
Memphis City Councilman Myron Lowery was prompted to take action when one of the tenant’s daughters, Shakeena Campbell, wrote him of her frustrations when MLGW would not allow her to look at the history of the delinquent water bill.
Campbell was told by MLGW that she could not have access because she was not a tenant of the Garden Walk Condominium complex. When she explained that she was doing this on behalf of her father, a tenant of Garden Walk, she still was denied. And from most accounts, it seems that other tenants have been denied as well.
According to Campbell, condo tenants pay the water bill through the Garden Walk Association, which is managed by Mary Jones.
On March 26, 2013 the matter went to court and was further complicated by Judge Larry Potter who informed the tenants that they had until April 11, 2013 to vacate their homes. At that March 26 hearing, Potter turns around and gives tenants yet another court date on April 18, 2013 to continue Due Process, which left tenants even more frustrated wondering why should they return on April 18 if they have been told to get the hell out of Dodge by April 11?
Now let’s back this situation up some to get a fuller scope of how ‘life’ happens.
Now Garden Walk is a condominium complex in which each tenant receives a utility bill each and every month like clockwork. Now break this on down. Each and every month an MLGW bill is in their mailbox. Stick with me here.
Okay, condo owners of Garden Walk have an association (managed by Mary Jones) in which they pay fees to take care of the water which, according to a memo from MLGW to Councilman Lowery, comes from a common pipe which provides water to each condo. Simple? Right.
Some way or another the water bill hits $30,000 in delinquency at MLGW. And Mary Jones was dragged into court for the March 26 hearing. Other tenants who were in jeopardy of losing their condos came, too, only to be told, according to Campbell, that they were there to be cited individually for the running water which forced code enforcers to shut off the water supply.
Let’s see now: Individual tenants can be cited ‘individually’ for running water but individual tenants cannot view a $30,000 delinquent water bill ‘individually’ because their names are not on the water bill portion of the MLGW utility bill. But—no, let’s make this a big BUT, MLGW knows that these individual ‘individuals’ live in Garden Walk; otherwise the ‘individuals’ would not be getting a utility bill ‘individually’ each and every month like clockwork.
Now let’s pause a bit and back up further —as far as we can go at this point.
According to court documents, on January 17, 2013, the City of Memphis Division of Public Works inspected the Garden Walk complex, located at 3910 White Owl Square. The complex’s council of co-owners association was cited through Mary Jones for having running water because of pipe problems. Jones was given an “environmental citation in lieu of arrest” as stated on court documents.
It appears the water was turned off on or about January 17, 2013. An additional inspection was made on February 8, 2013, and apparently the common water pipe had not been fixed. Water stayed off. Bewildered tenants are wondering what’s going on believing the water bill is being paid each month.
City of Memphis Division of Public Works filed court papers on February 18, 2013. On these documents is Mary Jones’ signature attached to a statement which reads thusly: “I hereby affix my signature with the understanding that such is not a plea of guilty, but to certify that I received a copy of this citation and agree to appear in court on the indicated date and time. I understand that failure to appear in court can result in my arrest.”
Jones was scheduled to appear in court on February 26, 2013.
Okay, let’s back up again—just a tad bit. There is an outstanding $30,000 water bill that’s increasing because of a corrupt common pipe which supplies water to all the condos; yet, it appears that MLGW did not come out to inspect the pipe but the pipe ‘problem’ somehow or another got into the City of Memphis Division of Public Works department. So one wonders if the broken pipe line was a city problem and that’s why they came out or an MLGW problem or a tenants’ problem—tenants who have no access to the MLGW water bill???
Okay, let’s lean back just a little bit more concerning the April 11 deadline for all tenants to get the hell out of Dodge. According to Shakeena Campbell, her father, Avan Campbell, received a notice of eviction on or around February 25, 2013. However, that notice was dated February 12, 2013. Mr. Campbell is owner of his condo and according to his daughter has faithfully paid his water fees to the association.
Now, the initial court date was scheduled for February 26, 2013.
Let’s try this again: The City of Memphis Division of Public Works sent a notice dated February 12, 2013 to all tenants via the U.S. Post Office which is located in the same city. Now if one were to look at what Shakeena Campbell is saying, one has to say that it took approximately two weeks for a notice dated February 12, 2013 to reach tenants on or around February 25, 2013 in the same city.
On that February 12th dated notice, tenants were told that they had 15 days to vacate; HOWEVER, it seems that most did not get the notice until on or around February 25, 2013, which, theoretically speaking, in ‘actuality’ gave tenants 24 hours or 48 hours to vacate their homes. All of which meant that homeowners had to start moving furniture, clothes, pets, children, etc. either the day before or on the actual court date of February 26.
Now however which way this thing was being allegedly orchestrated, set up, delivered or ‘whatever’ another court date came about which was March 26, 2013. So to continue this saga, tenants show up along with manager Mary Jones all of whom stand to be hauled off to jail because code enforcers turned off the water. To repeat, tenants are showing up thinking the matter is about saving their property; yet, according to Campbell, they are told by Jones’ lawyer that they are in fact there to be individually cited for the water being cut off. At this hearing, according to Campbell, Judge Larry Potter informs them that they have until April 11, 2013 to vacate their homes because they are being evicted because there is no water. At this point there are some tenants who have already moved because there was no water and they had been waiting to get back into their homes. The code enforcers who cited the council of co-owners association through Mary Jones, according to Campbell, did not bother to board up vacant condos; thus, Garden Walk has become a magnet for crime, vandalism, and property devaluation.
On top of Potter making it clear that tenants are to vacate on April 11, he gives them yet another court date of April 18, 2013 for further Due Process. This leaves tenants frustrated and wondering why should they even bother to show up for the April 18th court date, seeing that they have until April 11 to get out. One has to wonder why would a judge give an order for tenants to vacate their homes on April 11 because of no water, but sets a court date of April 18 to discuss why there is no water. Now remember the water has been off since January of this year. So, why wouldn’t he wait for the April 18th court date to continue and why would he not involve MLGW on that $30,000 water bill and find out why tenants have not been allowed access to that bill?
Something’s rotten in Denmark.
On April 1, Councilman Lowery asked for the City Council to look into the matter after Shakeena Campbell got in touch with him, gravely concerned about her father’s predicament.
On April 2, an MLGW memo to Lowery stated: “…The complex has numerous private property water leaks that are of large magnitude. Most of the water used by the complex is water leaking from their common area plumbing. No one within the complex or representing the complex is willing to take the responsibility to repair these private property leaks. There is no way to turn the water on to the complex without these large leaks becoming active again. In fact if we turn the water on to the complex, then the damage from the leaks could be catastrophic.”
One has to presuppose that tenants losing their homes would be less catastrophic than bad pipes or that they could be arrested for having NO water. But if the good judge had bothered to include MLGW in any type of hearings then maybe a representative from MLGW could have at least stated such for the record if not for humane reasons.
Something downright stinks in Denmark.
The MLGW memo continues: “We have agreed to allow individual homeowners to pay for an individual water meter and service from our water main to the complex property line. They would need to hire their own plumber to then run the water line from their individual water meter at the property line to their individual unit. Unfortunately, very few of the home owners can afford this expense.”
Again, had the good judge allowed and/or ordered MLGW to be involved in this case, MLGW might have had the opportunity to put forth this common-sense solution which they have now been pressed to offer due to Lowery’s asking for an investigation. But still, let’s break down MLGW’s last paragraph. First of all, if one can hook up an F—- ing “individual water meter and service” from their (MLGW’s) “water main to the complex property line,” then why didn’t MLGW make this humane gesture before cutting water off since January to aid and abet in forcing homeowners off their property? Common sense or natural law would dictate that people just don’t let a water bill go up to $30,000 without good reason. Instead, what these tenants like so many others got was a system that demanded $30,000, threatened arrest and jail time, a total cut off of water, ordered off their property, non-descript court dates, a judge who chose not to include all parties concerned, and other S—t that flies won’t even go near.
Memphis has had a series of extreme bad weather in which Mother Nature uprooted trees and damaged pipe lines and caused other costly infrastructure on private properties, not to mention Father Economics has caused hardships on many in a city where there is more poverty than wealth. MLGW should have in place some plan whereby they work on a reasonable basis with citizens who are caught between a rock and a hard place of a water bill escalating when they cannot afford to fix pipes and/or hire plumbers. A human being has to have water to live, especially in a city which in the past has shown more compassion for dogs in the animal shelter than for human beings in their homes.
Even the MLGW memo Lowery received makes this assertion regarding hardships: “This is a very unfortunate and difficult situation. We were able to help another condominium complex that found itself in a similar situation. The other complex, however, owed a lot less than $30,000, was 60% occupied and was willing to take responsibility to repair their private property water leaks.”
And to that, one should add that even if another complex’s bill was less than $30,000 and was 60% occupied and had the funds to take responsibility to repair their private property water leaks does not mean their good fortune would fit every person’s circumstance. Such a statement is made with either sheer stupidity and/or with a naïveté which assumes that since Mr. Rockefeller can afford to fix his water problem Mr. John Doe should be able to fix his.
Due to Lowery’s intervention and Shakeena Campbell’s concern for her father, the MLGW memo concluded that MLGW is “open” to a way of fixing the Garden View dilemma. Let’s hope they mean it. Hell, even a dog deserves water!
Kudos to Councilman Lowery for taking up the issue; and kudos to Ms. Shakeena Campbell for asserting her rights as a citizen and daughter.