New Hampshire Park Renters Fight Eviction
The letter left on Robert and Bernadine Rumsey's doorstep Thursday (July 16) advised they start packing. Immediately. The Cold Brook Campground near Webster, N.H., was officially closed, it said, and water and electricity would be shut off in coming days.
The elderly Florida couple, who have spent nearly a decade of summers in a cozy trailer in the Webster park, said they were shocked and angered by the news they'd be forced out so abruptly – especially after they'd shelled out nearly $2,200 to stay through Oct. 1, according to the Concord Monitor.
About 30 residents living full time at the campground had a lot of questions Monday for the campground's owner, Tina Schindelwig. They wanted to know where they were supposed to go, why they weren't told sooner about the Aug. 18 foreclosure deadline, and what would happen to the thousands of dollars they'd invested in their sites and seasonal homes.
"Nobody's got any time to do anything," Bernadine Rumsey said. "We have rights, darn it!"
Schindelwig, who did not respond to several attempts seeking comment, informed tenants in last week's letter that electricity had been shut off in one part of the camp, which is located on Battle Street, and that other sections would soon follow. All Dumpsters had been removed, she wrote, and because the sanitary water system needed electricity to run its pumps, she legally had no option but to close the campground down.
"I have no answers for you as to what might occur next. I suspect that it may be in your best interest to begin removing your personal property and RVs from the campground immediately, while it is still an option," Schindelwig wrote. "I regret that your season has been marred by these events but the situation is out of my hands."
Some residents said they questioned whether the electricity being shut off was, in fact, out of Schindelwig's hands or an attempt to get them out earlier.
Something Was Up
Resident Lisa Barbaro said it was clear in recent weeks that "something was up." It started when the campground's business sign was chopped down and exchanged for signs that read, "closed" and "no trespassing." The picnic tables started disappearing, and then the letters came.
After Barbaro and her husband, Mike, got the letter, she said they suspected the account had defaulted and called the local utility company to find out what it would cost to keep the power on.
"They first told us it would cost about $100. When they checked into it further, they said they wouldn't be able to turn it on because she (Schindelwig) had requested they shut it off . . . and told them not to allow any tenants to turn it back on," Barbaro said. "This is not due to nonpayment; this is due to her shutting it off."
On Monday, residents said a utility worker showed up to cut the power. After a series of frantic calls to the company – and a court order requiring Schindelwig to keep the campground running until an Aug. 18 hearing – the electricity was kept on.
PSNH (Public Service New Hampshire) spokesman Martin Murray confirmed that the company went to the campground Monday "at the request of the customer to shut off power," he said. "Shortly after we began to initiate that, we determined that the landlord/tenant rule applied. That basically means that a 10-day notice to tenants is required."
Murray said the owner requested that four power stations at the campground be shut off Friday and that the 10-day notices will be delivered today, though Barbaro said a Franklin District Court judge ordered Monday that Schindelwig maintain all utilities through Aug. 18, as well as provide access to the trailers.
Parties in Long Dispute
The campground and town of Webster are in the midst of an ongoing legal battle over the construction of additional sites in 2002. Six years later, the town sued Tina and Jim Schindelwig, who, residents said Monday, has since moved to Florida, for adding 80 sites without permission. The Schindelwigs have said they did not know they needed permission from the town, and they sued an opponent of the expansion for trespassing on the property to take pictures.
John McColgan, who's 73 and currently lives in Florida, said he got a call from Schindelwig Monday informing him that he had until Saturday to get his trailer off the property.
"I'm paid through the end of September," he said. "I can't get up from Florida, and I have nowhere to put my park-model trailer. I can have it towed off, but where am I going to put it?"
Like the Rumseys, McColgan said he moved from Sandy Beach Campground in Contoocook to Cold Brook Campground several years ago because he liked the people, there was more space and it was cheaper.
"It's too bad because we really enjoyed going up there. There's a good group up there, and we're all friends," he said, adding that while he was there during the months of May and June, "there was no indication as to whether there would be any problems. She was still making improvements to the roads in June."
Other tenants, like Rosemarie Gelinas, said they were upset that Schindelwig allowed them to make costly improvements to their land.
"When the camp opened May 1, I told her I was putting in a garden," Gelinas said, estimating she'd invested thousands in plants and rocks for her garden. "We knew there were some financial problems. My heart went out to her, I felt bad. . . . But you need to be up front and honest with the people who paid you."
Meanwhile, the Rumseys have found another campground to spend the remainder of the summer, but will have to fork over an additional $1,000 to secure their spot. They estimated that after moving costs, an add-on porch they will have to leave behind and the money they prepaid to Cold Brook, they'll be out about $12,000.
"We happened to be fortunate enough to find somewhere else to go," Robert Rumsey said. "We really liked it here. It's just a shame."