By Vincent Montoya-Armanios and Fernando Coplin
While many Bucks County residents are sick, suffering, and out of work, a New Jersey-based property management company called Emess is working overtime to evict tenants and displace our community members.
Emess Management Company owns Colonial Gardens, Levittown Trace, and Castle Club Apartments among others. Emess has pursued dozens of evictions in past months despite the ongoing CDC moratorium. Their ruthless eviction practices threaten to displace even more of our low income and Black and Brown community, accelerating the process of gentrification taking place in Lower Bucks.
Judge Robert Wagner’s court in Levittown heard 14 nonpayment cases filed by Levittown Trace just on Dec. 4, and many more since September. Colonial Gardens and Castle Club Apartments tried almost 40 evictions on Dec. 7.
Local organizers from Bucks Tenant Solidarity and Lower Bucks for Change applied some resistance, protesting the conditions at Castle Club Apartments and their eviction practices. When Bucks Tenant Solidarity visited Castle Club to deliver information on rental assistance and tenants rights, staff threatened to call the police, and they were forced to leave.
Bucks County Rising interviewed a former tenant (who wished to remain anonymous) to discuss her experience at Castle Club. She told us that she and her sister were falsely accused of smoking marijuana in the unit on multiple occasions. In one instance, security forced her and her sisters to hold their hands out so that they could sniff their fingers. They were forced to leave Castle Club after multiple false drug accusations for fear of an eviction: “Castle Club always had they dirt, that’s why we left,” she remarked.
Even after they left the apartment, her mother was falsely accused of not returning the keys and charged. They made the payment and moved on. She expressed her frustration with local landlords, as well as the local courts, more broadly:
“You gotta know your rights, I feel bad because a lot of people don’t know they rights… [landlords] try to manipulate you and shit like that, “she said. “I feel bad because whoever in the court and letting them evict you like that. Shame on them too. They just want they money… We take your money, then kick you the fuck out.” Complaints about Emess apartments precede the pandemic and extend beyond vicious debt collection.
A former tenant of the “M” building at Colonial Gardens (who also wished to remain anonymous) was recently forced to leave her apartment after Colonial Gardens refused to negotiate a payment plan. She lost substantial income due to her hospitalization in August of 2019 and has suffered financial hardship ever since. Emess filed an eviction notice against her in September 2020 for nonpayment after increasing her rent every month between $20-$25, despite her communication that she was struggling to make payments. Emess Management Company denied each of her requests for a rent reduction. She filed a request for rental assistance from the state, which was rejected for income ineligibility.
Her case is unfortunately common—the vast majority of rental assistance applicants have been denied help. As of the end of November, only 15 percent of applications for PA rental assistance were approved, and about 50 percent of the budget allocated for rental assistance was returned to the PA treasury. Much of the $150 million that were allocated for rental assistance were instead used to fund the Department of Corrections.
When she left the apartment, she was falsely accused of property degradation without evidence. She told us about several conditions of disrepair in her old apartment. She filed four work reports for a ceiling leak which were never completed. “It’s just a mess in my opinion, the entire Emess management,” she said. When we visited Colonial Gardens in September, we saw a smashed peephole, a completely drenched hallway floor, and other conditions of disrepair. Emess is claiming that she owes $10,000 for nonpayment and uncorroborated property damage. She’s since had to move in with family to stay afloat.
For more information on how you can fight an eviction against you, see Blair Haney’s article prepared in collaboration with Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania. If you’re interested in joining local organizing efforts against evictions, you can contact Bucks Tenant Solidarity at email@example.com.