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83-year-old Alstead woman awaits court eviction ruling

Last modified: 1/1/2014 11:55:58 PM
Shelley Crosby – with no legal training but plenty of passion – stood before the justices of New Hampshire’s highest court arguing why her 83-year-old mother should not be evicted from the modest Alstead trailer she has called home for nearly 30 years.

“Thank you for giving me this opportunity to fight for my mom,” she began at the November hearing.

Crosby, who researched the state Supreme Court’s rules at the library because she doesn’t have a computer, hopes for a reprieve for her mother, Leona Berger, in her two-year battle with the cooperative that operates the 20-unit trailer park.

The justices did not say when they would issue a ruling in the case that is the talk of this small town of 2,000 residents just north of Keene.

The board of selectmen even held up approval of a $400,000 grant for a well system at the trailer park for nearly half a year hoping to leverage a deal with the Well Hill Cooperative to keep Berger in her home. The board abandoned that fight this week.

“I thought I had the opportunity to use the bully pulpit a little,” board Chairman Mike Jasmin said Tuesday. He said all he asked is that the cooperative give Berger the opportunity to buy the trailer she has restored and rented for more than 28 years.

“Nobody’s asking for Leona to get a free ride, just tell her the price of admission,” Jasmin said.

Berger’s ordeal began in August 2011, when she received notice that the board was going to increase her rent from $400 to $900. Crosby became her mother’s advocate and negotiated the rent to $575. Berger had to sign a lease for the first time – a lease the board opted not to renew a year later. They sent an eviction notice instead, effective September 2012.

Crosby and her mother hired a lawyer to fight the eviction at the district court level, where a judge ruled the board had the right to obtain and sell the rental property. Crosby took over when their lawyer declined to appeal the ruling.

The Supreme Court at first rejected her petition to appeal, but she successfully filed a motion for reconsideration in March

At the hearing, Supreme Court justices were incredulous that the cooperative’s board of directors first tried to more than double Berger’s rent, then sent her an eviction notice without giving her an opportunity to buy the trailer or extend her lease. The lawyer for the cooperative’s board of directors said it was a business decision.

“They can’t sell it with her in it,” lawyer William Pribis told the justices at the Nov. 13 hearing.

“They could sell it to her – that would be very efficient,” said Chief Justice Linda Dalianis.

Robert Phinney, chairman of the Well Hill board of directors, said media reports that he wants Berger out of the park are “totally off-base.”

“It’s a business decision, so the park doesn’t have responsibility for taking care of the house anymore,” Phinney said Tuesday. He wouldn’t say why the board hasn’t offered Berger a chance to buy the house.

Crosby said the board is “bullying” her mother.

“I don’t think Rob Phinney ever, ever anticipated he was barking up the wrong tree when he started barking up mine,” Crosby said.

Crosby said Tuesday the stress is making her mother ill.

Berger – seated in her living room weeks after the arguments – said the legal fight “has taken years off my life. That’s what makes me want to scream.”

Berger and her husband, Bernard – a tractor-trailer driver – transformed the trailer’s lot into a landscaped lawn and refurbished its dilapidated interior, Berger said. When he died 14 years ago, it reinforced her attachment to her home.

“We bought everything to fit this house,” she said. “It’s almost like I’ve been here forever.”


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