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New London charges back rent in Kelo case

The city of New London, Conn., has decided to charge back rent to the homeowners whose property they seized to build a private office complex and park.

This is utterly sickening. It just adds insult to injury.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently found that the city’s original seizure of private property was constitutional under the principal [sic] of eminent domain, and now New London is claiming that the affected homeowners were living on city land for the duration of the lawsuit and owe back rent. It’s a new definition of chutzpah: Confiscate land and charge back rent for the years the owners fought confiscation.

In some cases, their debt could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Moreover, the homeowners are being offered buyouts based on the market rate as it was in 2000. . . .

In June 2004, NLDC sent the seven affected residents a letter indicating that after the completion of the case, the city would expect to receive retroactive “use and occupancy” payments (also known as “rent”) from the residents.

In the letter, lawyers argued that because the takeover took place in 2000, the residents had been living on city property for nearly five years, and would therefore owe rent for the duration of their stay at the close of the trial. Any money made from tenantssome residents’ only form of incomewould also have to be paid to the city.

With language seemingly lifted straight from The Goonies, NLDC’s lawyers wrote, “We know your clients did not expect to live in city-owned property for free, or rent out that property and pocket the profits, if they ultimately lost the case.” They warned that “this problem will only get worse with the passage of time,” and that the city was prepared to sue for the money if need be.

A lawyer for the residents, Scott Bullock, responded to the letter on July 8, 2004, asserting that the NLDC had agreed to forgo rents as part of a pretrial agreement in which the residents in turn agreed to a hastened trial schedule. Bullock called the NLDC’s effort at obtaining back rent “a new low.”

“It seems like it is simply a desperate attempt by a nearly broke organization to try to come up with more funds to perpetuate its own existence,” Bullock wrote. He vowed to respond to any lawsuit with another.

With the case nearly closed, the NLDC may soon make good on its promise to sue. Jeremy Paul, an associate UConn law dean who teaches property law, says it’s not clear who might prevail in a legal battle over rent. “From a political standpoint, the city might be better off trying to reach some settlement with the homeowners,” he says.

An NLDC estimate assessed Dery for $6,100 per month since the takeover, a debt of more than $300K. One of his neighbors, case namesake Susette Kelo, who owns a single-family house with her husband, learned she would owe in the ballpark of 57 grand. “I’d leave here broke,” says Kelo. “I wouldn’t have a home or any money to get one. I could probably get a large-size refrigerator box and live under the bridge.” — Fairfield County Weekly

Hat tip to Hit and Run.

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