Neighbors said the property became a haven for squatters and drug dealers
William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNewsnet
CORRECTION: It has been brought to our attention (today, August 15) that Merrith McDonald paid landlord Kenneth Wallace several thousand dollars in rent for the time that she was living at 23 N. Harley Ave. She was not involved in any sales of illegal drugs. And, she was not affiliated in any way with the people who were living in the house illegally.
GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (August 14, 2022)(CNBNewsnet)--Since 2020, a rental property in Gloucester City has become a nuisance to the Riverview Heights community nearby. Kenneth Wallace of Merchantville owns the single-family property at 23 N. Harley Avenue.
Over the years, neighbors have complained about illegal drugs sold from the property, storage of numerous unlicensed/abandoned vehicles, lack of property maintenance, squatters breaking into the house and living there, and erecting an unlicensed above-ground swimming pool.
August 2021, William Ackley, Chief Housing Inspector and Zoning Officer submitted a request to the mayor and council asking them to revoke Wallace’s rental license. Ackley said that Wallace was found guilty of violating the City Housing Code, Chapter 55, and the Property Maintenance Code, Chapter 66, nine times.
In his letter to the council, Ackley stated, “In total, Kenneth Wallace has received nine notices for 29 violations in 15 months beginning on May 18, 2020. My office received numerous complaints from neighbors regarding the neglected condition of the property, actions of tenants/guests/illegal tenants, and advertisements for “rooms for rent” on Craigs List.”
September 2021, Wallace's rental license was revoked for one year. On December 28, 2021, Mayor and Council passed a resolution affirming the cancellation and levied a cost assessment of $250. His license was suspended from January 1, 2022, until December 31, 2022.
The Housing Office brought charges against Wallace in May 2022 for some of the same violations that he was previously found guilty of.
Wallace says while he was on the phone with 911 to report that the squatters were on his property, he was attacked by Jamie Taylor, who picked him up and threw him off the steps. Wallace said the following day when he woke up, he had trouble walking and suffered injuries to his head and chest caused by Taylor attacking him. Wallace told police, "Evictions were filed and are still pending for Donna and Jamie Taylor, but I do not know who else they are allowing to move in. The police asked me to stay from the property and said I could not do that because I had to maintain it or get fined. So I will talk to the Housing Department today, Monday, June 13, 2022, about that situation."
July 2022, Wallace is issued another summons for excavating the dirt on either side of his driveway and replacing it with loose stones. A man working on the project tells CNBNews that 50 tons of rocks will be placed on the ground once done. According to a neighbor, the backhoe driver who was excavating the ground ran into his fence, damaging it. Several feet of dirt from the excavation works were left lying in the street (above). Residents nearby complain of the dust blowing onto their properties caused by the excavation. Wallace is told by the Housing Office to stop the work and obtain a zoning permit.
Before publishing this article today, (August 14, 2022), we walked by the house and noticed a licensed pickup parked in the driveway. The excavation work was finished, and the loose stone was packed down. The dirt lying in the street was removed. We knocked on the door to see if anyone was living there, but no one answered. Piles of construction material and trash lie in the backyard (below).
The unlicensed/unregistered white van (arrow points to it) still hasn't been removed from the property.
How to Get Rid of Squatters in New Jersey
A search for how to remove squatters from your property in New Jersey revealed surprising information. For example, if a squatter remains on your property for 30 years, a squatter can claim legal rights to a property after a specific time residing there. In New Jersey, it takes 30 years of continuous occupation for a squatter to claim a residential property and 60 years of constant possession to claim a woodland area (NJ Rev Stat § 2A:14-30 to 32 (2016)).
In New Jersey, there are no specific laws to remove squatters. Landowners and landlords must use the legal eviction process to get squatters off of their properties here.
There is, however, a provision in place for disabled landowners. If someone who owns the land has a disability (either they are a minor, legally incompetent, or imprisoned), they have additional time to reclaim their land. After the disability is lifted (either they come of age, become competent, or are released from prison), they have 5 years to reclaim their property.
Otherwise, a landowner will need to start the formal legal eviction process to remove squatters from the property. The process begins with the landlord serving an eviction notice. If the squatter is being disorderly and ruining the peaceful enjoyment of the premises, causing property damage or involved in illegal activity, a landowner can issue a 3-Day Notice to Quit before filing an eviction suit.
If there is no damage or harm from the squatter, there may be no notice necessary. New Jersey allows landowners to immediately file an eviction if a tenant fails to pay rent, and this applies to squatters as well.
The squatter might choose to fight the eviction to stay on the property longer. Unless they have a strong case for remaining on the property, the judgment will usually be in favor of the landowner. If an eviction is granted by the court, a warrant for removal shall be issued to the squatter by the sheriff. This allows the squatter 3 business days to remove their belongings before a Special Civil Part Officer returns to the property to forcibly remove them.
Even after a successful eviction, a landowner cannot remove the squatter from the property themselves. Any measure that they take to make the squatter leave – including turning off the utilities or changing the locks – can open them up to a lawsuit for damages. Instead, the landowner must wait until a law enforcement officer comes to remove the squatter from the property.
Sometimes, squatters will leave personal property behind. In New Jersey, a landowner must send notice to the squatter that they have 30 days after the delivery of notice (or 33 days after the date of mailing the notice) to retrieve their personal property from the landlord or storage facility where it is being kept. If they don’t come get their belongings within those (30 (or 33 days), the landlord can sell or dispose of the belongings as they see fit. The squatter can also be held accountable for the storage costs.
Please note that when dealing with a squatting situation, local law enforcement may not be able to help. The sheriff is more likely to be able to help with squatter situations if it isn’t a trespassing situation.
Wallace's statement to Gloucester City Police
pertaining to his physical encounter with the squatters
EDITOR'S NOTE: The information for the article was obtained through an OPRA request.
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