The “garage”-a backyard shed-at 154 Frank Street has no windows, unless you count the blurred glass that is caked with something brown.
This is where Jeanette Arnold and her boyfriend Glen Jackson say that they were paying $250 a month-each-to stay. They say that they spent the winter there, bringing in a propane space heater to survive the subzero temperatures.
Head into the house through the backdoor and you’ll pass a tiny bathroom with a stained toilet and tile walls that have paint chipped off in several spots. Further into the kitchen is a door to the basement, an allegedly mold and mildew infested space that Arnold and Jackson say they have shared with another tenant of the house for the past two weeks after Kelly Moi-the couple’s landlord and a former New Haven Housing Authority cop-moved them in from the shed.
“I’ve been waking up feeling sick every morning,” Arnold says. “I have heart disease. And [there’s] no air, no circulation. There’s just one fan in the corner.”
And again, no windows-at least none that can be opened. Moi has the basement windows boarded up. Arnold says that there is very little light, and that in one part of the basement, sewage is leaking into a bucket.
“There’s only one light but he’s got two fixtures with no bulbs in ‘em,” Arnold says. “There is wiring out all over the place.”
I won’t have the opportunity to see for myself. When Arnold took me to the property last Thursday afternoon, there was a padlock on the basement door. Her and Jackson’s mattress-along with a pile of garbage bags containing their belongings-was in the backyard against a fence.
Earlier that day, Arnold and Amistad Catholic Worker activist Greg Williams-the couple’s advocate-had it out with Moi. Livable Cities Initiative, (LCI) was called in and Moi was ordered to have the couple relocated, but this looks like an eviction.
Williams is the next person to get to 154 Frank Street. Two more reporters arrive shortly after, and then, with the police still on their way, Moi shows up.
He pulls up in a black pickup truck but doesn’t get out.
“Hi Mr. Moi,” Williams says to him. “Do want to explain an illegal eviction?”
“I’m about to call the police,” Moi says.
“We’ve already called the police,” Williams says back.
A shouting match between Moi and Arnold ensues as reporters try to squeeze questions into the exchange. Moi denies putting the couple’s belongings outside, which infuriates Arnold further.
“Who threw our stuff out there, then?” she shouts. “Don’t lie. Don’t lie. Don’t lie, Mr. Kelly!”
She points to the property.
“You wouldn’t even put your own daughter in a fuckin place like that!” Arnold says.
“Who put you there?” Moi says. “I didn’t put you there.”
Moi tells reporters that although he had allowed Jackson-an employee of his-to live there, Arnold was not given permission to stay at the property. He even put Jackson-who was 15 to 20 minutes away- on the phone with a reporter to back up that claim, but that move would backfire.
“That’s a lie,” Jackson told a reporter through speaker phone.
When Jackson got to the scene, he elaborated.
Moi was taking from his paycheck the amount he was charging them for rent, Jackson said. Moi-who owns multiple properties in the neighborhood-had another apartment open that he would not rent to them, according to Jackson.
“He’s got me staying with him but I’m not getting any money to go someplace else,” Jackson said. “He’s evicting me but I don’t owe him nothin. He owes me hundreds of dollars.”
While Moi later admitted that he had been letting the two live there, he claims that he wasn’t charging them rent and that he had provided them the space because they were homeless. This was echoed by Joe Bush, one of his employees, as well as members of Moi’s family.
It’s Jackson and Arnold’s word against Moi’s, and at the center of the dispute are nonexistent rent payment receipts. Jackson and Arnold say they were never given proof of that they have been paying to live there, and Moi says he doesn’t have it because they weren’t paying.
But there is Moi’s apparent track record. Police have arrived, and they have been here before-about a month and a half ago.
“LCI came here that day and shut you down,” Lieutenant Nick Marcucio tells Moi. “And now you have them [Jackson and Arnold] here again. You’re the worst landlord in the city.”
That was when a shooting occurred inside the house. Police came and found Jackson and Arnold living in the garage. LCI was called in, and Moi was told that he was technically exceeding the house’s 5-resident limit by having Jackson and Arnold there, Marcucio says.
And LCI has its paperwork-a laundry list of mandates that includes covering junction boxes and electrical panels, and installing a carbon monoxide detectors. One of the bedrooms had a hole in its ceiling, and then there’s the order to “cease and desist using the garage and basement as a living space”.
Tonight, that is what is going to happen. Jackson and Arnold are leaving the basement, and Moi will be responsible for relocating them, Jacqueline Outlaw from LCI tells the group. But there’s a catch-if the couple refuses the place that is offered to them, the matter is out of the city’s hands, she says.
“My main concern is, where is he actually going to put them?” Williams says.
About a half hour later, he has his answer. Jackson and Arnold are set up to spend the night right next door to Moi’s home on Truman Street, but under one condition: the couple has to sign an agreement-a contract scribbled on a piece of notebook paper-stating that they will vacate the space by no later than 9 a.m. the next day.
“That wasn’t part of the agreement with the city,” Williams says.
But Jackson and Arnold are tired of fighting-at least for that night. They’ll pass on Moi’s offer and crash at a friend’s place. As for their belongings, Moi agreed to put it back inside the house at 154 Franklin until the couple returns with police to move it.