ANCA is working on a public art project to help tell the story of the housing crisis in the
North Country. To support this project, ACW is gathering writing by our audience on the
theme of housing.
Write about a time when you did not feel at home in the place you were living. What made it difficult to feel happy and secure? How did (or didn’t) you develop sense of home there?
Author’s note: this is a true story, though names of places and people have been changed.
Winning to Lose: Surviving a Retaliatory Eviction Only to Remain Housing Insecure
As a child, I listened to stories on tape at bedtime. Not bedtime stories. Stories on tape were for noise. The habit continues as an adult; Stephen King, Under the Dome. The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett…
Almost two years into life under the dome imposed on us by the developer, the need for just the right stories has intensified. In the quiet, I hear chainsaws, trucks backing up, garbage slammed into dumpsters.
“How do you like his new planter?” A neighbor asked, pointing to the excavator, a memorial to the home demolished. One of seven empty lots where trailers stood sentinel for decades.
This week, I had to bring in the big guns. Watergate: A New History, by Garret Graff.
On Saturday, we serve food to people living in a parking garage in Saratoga Springs. We vent about the city council meeting.
“Can you believe the chamber of commerce was there begging for new housing?”
“All they would have to do is make rents affordable.” Another adds.
“And not bulldoze housing to make boat storage,” I remind them unnecessarily.
I want to set up a tent city outside city hall in protest.
We drive home and there are new signs posted: Private Property, NO TRESPASSING. They are posted to the few trees left in the park, and random electric poles. It rained again, and the garbage has risen to the surface of an empty lot. In the distance, a new sign affixed to the barbed wire fence surrounding the perimeter of the park reminds us: 24-Hour Surveillance!
Our landlord thinks he’s J Edgar Hoover.
Eviction Court I
On the way to eviction court, I look out the passenger window and try not to cry. My landlord has spent a year building his case against me. I’ve spent longer building my case against him. But today, my lawyer reminded me, is only about disputing his terms of eviction.
My dad drove up from Berne to babysit the dogs. We have seen enough to understand; no one is safe from my landlord. Michael drives. I rehearse my testimony, in my mind, like lines for a school play.
Until I can’t think about the words anymore. We listen to Buffy Sainte-Marie sing Up Where We Belong and I no longer hold back tears. Michael reaches one hand from the steering wheel to hold my hand.
If we win, the abuse continues for another three years, when my landlord will have legal authority to take us to court again, his obligation to keep the park operating for 5 years fulfilled.
If we lose, we will be homeless in a month. And the rest of my neighbors will be steamrolled over. Crushed. Like their homes.
I think of D. panicking because she hasn’t gotten a new lease.
“I had to sign an agreement. I had to think about my son and his school.”
“But we don’t need leases.”
She caved. She’ll leave by June of 2023. No compensation.
A week later, the AG’s office showed up to investigate the allegations I’ve been making for a year, in person.
We pull into the court parking lot. Three comrades meet us.
I lower my sunglasses and roll the window down, “do I look like I’ve been crying?” I ask M.
“I’m the wrong person to ask,” he reminds me. I forget he’s autistic.
Dick Ouizell is here already. And his lawyer, his employee, and the two neighbors slated to testify against me.
I believe they will tell the truth, and if they do, God help them.
Eviction Court II
Michael hauled the totes filled with hundreds of CDs, each with a recorded segment of bodycam or security footage, to refute my landlord’s claims. He wheels in a television on a stand next. We both carry several bags of folders and binders with various logs, emails, screenshots and photos.
I brought everything. Except Motrin.
My headache is small at first. The Town Court is loud, chatter echoing from the crowd gathered behind me. Dick Ouizell sits at the plaintiff’s table with his lawyer, a throwback to the days of Duck’s Asses and Mad Men. Behind him, three witnesses occupy the first few chairs of a row. The rest of that half of the room is empty, at first. But more comrades file in and some have to sit on that side of the room. I try to greet them all, hugging and introducing friends to each other.
A booming voice silences the room.
Judge reminds us it is a courtroom and must be silent for the hearing.
“I know there are a lot of emotions, but outbursts will not be tolerated.” He points out the court officers who, he promises, will remove anyone who is disruptive.
As the trial begins, my head throbs. I’m nauseous. The allegations are read by Dick Ouizell’s attorney. I have no lease… I run around the park naked and act inappropriate in front of children… I have trespassed on my neighbor’s property and have even been arrested for trespassing…
It’s true, I think, but God forgives our trespasses. Or at least, the Saratoga Town Court threw out mine. After seven months of protests outside of court hearings for a violation.
The lawyer recounts the myth of Angela Kaufman, the wildest commie in the west, with all the zeal and elaboration of campfire tales of Pretty Boy Floyd. I’m not really that interesting.
“My client is losing business because other tenants are leaving the park because of the defendant.” He lies.
My landlord takes the stand.
He sits at the table in spitting distance. Question after question answered with detours and questionable confusion.
Michael and I scramble to write note after note to our lawyer, refuting his lies. I give up after a while. There are too many.
Dick Ouizell is no stranger to court, I know this from researching his businesses. Yet when my lawyer asks him a simple question, he turns to the judge and begins talking about awards he’s received. The judge indulges him at first.
“Objection, your honor…” My lawyer jumps in repeatedly.
Dick Ouizell keeps talking.
“Sir,” Judge, implores him, in the patronizing tone most use with young children, “you have to answer the question and not divert from the question.”
“Objection, Your honor… hearsay…” my lawyer repeatedly interjects.
“This is not a criminal court, so while you are correct, I will be lenient…” Judge replies.
Hearsay is entered into evidence. Letters from former neighbors lamenting Dick Ouizell’s plight being subjected to my antics.
Michael pulls a CD from one of the boxes, putting it in cue. It’s footage of this neighbor stating she is being forced out. She will be homeless. Thanking me for advocating for the community.
We won’t get to show it until it’s time for our testimony.
“Objection, Your Honor,” My lawyer interrupts again.
Dick Ouizell continues speaking.
“Sir,” Judge repeats, “when the lawyer objects, you must stop talking.”
Dick Ouizell interrupts the judge. “I don’t like the way I’m being treated here, this is very unfair to me, I’ve never been treated like this in my life!”
I look to the back of the room. The court officer looks bored. I guess the warning about disruptions was only for some people.
After two hours, the judge gives us a break.
By the third hour of eviction court, only my landlord has testified, and most of the time has been consumed in cross-examination.
“Sir, when did you sign the certification that you would not close the mobile home park for five years?”
“I… I don’t know, whenever, whenever it became clear no one could match the right of first refusal… I gave them time… I waited… I gave them a chance…and they couldn’t do it.”
He’s been whining and mumbling for so long I’m physically nauseous.
I pull an ice pack from my bag and hold it over my eyes.
“Sir, it says right here, March 31, 2021. That’s before the 140 days tenants had to exercise that right…”
“Objection!” Dick Ouizell’s lawyer interjects.
What follows is a half hour of my attorney arguing with the judge about why this certified statement was important, obstructed by Dick Ouizell’s attorney interjecting, all of which misses the point and I want to stand up and scream to set the record straight.
But so far, I’m on a good track record.
When it comes to foolish interruptions, Kaufman 0, Dick Ouizell,… I lost count at 12.
So I wait.
“Your honor,” Dick Ouizell’s lawyer changes tac, “We have witnesses who can’t come back after today. They need to get home. They’ve been waiting patiently. Can we come back to cross-examining my client and bring them to the stand?”
The first witness is Dick Ouizell’s employee. His testimony is brief and perjurious.
“She threatened me, the first day I met her she threatened all of us, she did it before she turned on her camera.”
Michael digs another CD out of the box. The one with security camera footage to disprove this.
The next witness is my neighbor.
“Have you ever felt uncomfortable because of the defendant’s behavior?” Dick Ouizell’s lawyer asks.
“Only once. During tree cutting. When she stood under the tree. My daughter saw and got upset.”
Now, I’m upset. I didn’t know his daughter was outside. Didn’t realize she saw me.
“Have you ever seen my client nude public areas of the park?”
“Has my client ever brought flyers to your door?”
“And did there come a time when you told her to not give you any more flyers?”
“And did she continue to drop things off on your doorstep after that?”
My chest tightens. With every honest answer, he puts himself in more danger.
“And do you have knowledge of tenants being paid to leave the park?”
“And is it true that Mr. Ouizell told you he has a cancelled check for $7500.00 paid to Mandy Davis to leave the park?”
“And did you ever hear Mr. Ouizell say he was putting a dumpster in my client’s driveway to harass her?”
“Yes,” he begins, pointing to Dick Ouizell’s lawyer and adding, “and you were there in the meeting when he said he was going to do it!”
He’s almost done. “Any other questions you want me to ask?” My lawyer asks Michael and me.
I slide a paper to him, on which I’ve written a question.
He looks at my neighbor on the stand, “I appreciate you answering my questions. One more thing. Do you feel your safety is in danger because of anything I’ve asked you?”
“No,” my neighbor answers, “it’s not you, it’s him!” he points to Dick Ouizell, “He’s the reason we are in danger.
He is excused from the stand and sits for a moment in the audience. As attorneys address the judge, I hear a voice from the back of the crowd, “Your HONOR!”
We turn and see a comrade pointing. Dick Ouizell has approached my neighbor, the witness, and is whispering to him.
“Sir, you must return to the bench,” Judge reminds him, patronizing patience waning. It took four hours for the judge to dismiss the case and end the trial. We now have three more years of abuse and harassment to endure before we are brought before the Judge again. Our next eviction will accompany the mobile home park closing so that Dick Ouizell can expand his boat storage business. We will lose in the end, but for today the bulldozers are quiet. Frogs gaze at their reflections in the small pond in the yard. Children play on the small lawns outside their homes. Today, we won.
One thought on “Winning to Lose: Surviving a Retaliatory Eviction Only to Remain Housing Insecure by Diogenes Kaufman”
I certainly have a retaliatory eviction story (maybe more than one). Do you only want stories from your area? I’m in SoCal.