As I documented in this week’s cover story on Osman Abdullahi’s death, the problems at 830 7th Street NE were vast. Abdullahi was left without meds in a house without heat and very little food. There was the thinnest of safety nets for Abdullahi and his fellow tenants. After the shooting, the building’s manager Mark Spence simply shut the home down. Without the proper notification or going through Landlord-Tenant Court, he kicked everyone out and locked the doors. Last Friday, I reported that city officials still aren’t sure where the tenants ended up.
An unlicensed home means simply that the tenants are left in particularly vulnerable positions. But one former Spence tenant did fight his eviction. He took Spence to court.
After the Department of Mental Health in 2003 ordered its staff and service providers from ever placing its people in Spence’s homes, Spence continued to operate unabated. One tenant took him to court.
In December 2003, Lawrence Winston filed a wrongful eviction civil suit against Spence. He sought a temporary restraining order and $6,000 in damages. He alleged that Spence had not only evicted him without notice but took all of his belongings (TV, sofa, other electronic equipment).
Winston wrote to the court: “I don’t know where anything is. I have no food, clothes, or place to stay for me or my son.”
A Superior Court judge granted Winston the restraining order and then extended it—ordering Spence to allow Winston to return to his apartment and give him back his possessions. The judge wrote that Spence “is not to harass plaintiff in any manner” and that Winston’s personal property must be returned by January 30, 2004.
I asked Spence about Winston. He says Winston was referred to him by a church. He claims that Winston didn’t pay rent. “He’s a get-over artist,” Spence says. “I didn’t have any of his stuff. I never had his stuff. He did that to just say something to go down to civil court. He didn’t have nothing but a bag when he came [to me]….He’s a con artist. I felt played.”
On June 14, 2004, Winston filed a motion against Spence for contempt. Spence still hadn’t returned his things. On August 6, a judge found Spence in contempt.
A few years later, a landlord sued Spence for more than $7,000 in unpaid rent over an apartment he had given to a mentally-ill man. The landlord refused comment for this piece (they had another case against Spence as well).
“They no longer wanted those clients in the apartment,” Spence says. “They wanted to remove the clients so that’s what they did. They were paid up in full. That was just their way of going to court.”