Bethlehem:Evicted Tenants Find New Housing, Others Remain Past Deadline

On Thursday, a crew worked on the redevelopment of the Pine Wood Motel, whose tenants were given eviction notices last month and had a deadline of Monday to move out. Some remain, as the town finds them new housing and the property owner agrees to let them stay a few more weeks until they can move into their new housing. Three tenants remain, so far without known places to go. (Photo by Robert Blechl)

BETHLEHEM — Facing eviction, all tenants at the Pine Wood Motel had until Monday, Nov. 15, to vacate the premises after a new owner embarking on a redevelopment took over the property several months ago.

While some tenants are in new housing, others still remain.

A number of those still there will be in new housing within the next month, though the town at the moment doesn’t know where the remaining three are going.

Meanwhile, one tenant has filed a legal action against the property owner that is scheduled for a hearing at Littleton District Court on Dec. 1.

This week, a Select Board member who is involved with helping the tenants find new homes discussed the eviction status and relocation plans, and the property manager outlined the plan for redeveloping the 2.8-acre property.

As soon as she heard the tenants will be needing new housing, Select Board member April Hibberd, who also serves as the town’s welfare director, went to Pine Wood and introduced herself to offer resources and assistance.

“I’ve gotten to know a few of them quite well and started the process of getting them hooked up with CAP [the Tri-County Community Action Program] and get them the application with funding for housing and started looking for places,” Hibberd said Wednesday.

Some tenants left soon after receiving the notice of eviction on Oct. 10.

“At this point, five people are gone from Pinewood, three are leaving next week, there’s one that has a place for Dec. 1, there’s another one that at some point will start moving the first week of December, and another one that will be leaving within a month,” said Hibberd. “There’s another one who is actively trying to figure out where he is going. So that leaves three. But the other two I haven’t had contact with so I don’t know anything about them. I don’t know where they’re going.”

Although the deadline for the tenants to leave has passed, the property owner, Yitzchok Rudich, who owns the adjacent Presidential Mountain Resort, has been flexible and has allowed those tenants who have places to go to remain on the Pine Wood Motel property until they are ready to move into those places, said Hibberd.

The fate of the remaining three is unclear, and property owners can take legal action against tenants who remain past an eviction deadline.

On Nov. 9, Pine Wood tenant Donna Martin filed a tenant’s petition against Rudch and 1214 Main St. LCC, his company name for the property, under New Hampshire RSA 54-A, the statute on prohibited practices by landlords.

Represented by Bethlehem attorney Ruth Heintz, of New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which assists area residents with civil legal issues and evictions, Martin is alleging that her heat and gas to her cooking stoves in her apartment unit were deliberately cut off on Nov. 9 and there is no more trash collection.

She also alleges she received a first-draft eviction notice and not a court notice.

Her petition with the Dec. 1 court hearing states that her action behalf of all tenants and eight units of people at the Pine Wood Motel.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance spokesperson Sarah Palermo did not respond by press time Thursday to a voice mail and email inquiry asking if NHLA has filed any more petitions on behalf of any Pine Wood tenants in other courts and if it plans to file additional petitions on their behalf.

On Wednesday, Hibberd was at the site speaking with propane gas company representatives about a leak that required the gas system to be shut off because of safety.

There was also a day when the tenants didn’t have electricity because of a construction mishap, she said.

“They immediately called someone to fix it and that was done within the same day,” said Hibberd.

Although the utilities challenge can be stressful to some residents already facing eviction, Hibberd said she did not see anything deliberate coming from the property owner or manager.

On Thursday, Craig Lagerstrom, the property manager, said he is working with those tenants who have places to go but need to stay at Pine Wood a little longer.

“People have moved out of the second building and that building does have hot water,” said Hibberd. “I asked Craig if he could open those units so people in the other building can at least go in there and take a shower, and he did. He bought space heaters for everybody so they can have heat.”

While some tenants will be going into new housing, Hibberd stressed that for some that housing is temporary and they will need to find something permanent.

She asked those with apartments or a room in a house available to rent to reach out to the town or her directly.

The tenants have ranged in age from children to seniors and most are on low or fixed incomes.

Although one tenant since July has publicly displayed vulgar political signs denigrating Pres. Joe Biden, Hibberd said about half the tenants have jobs, some have lived there for more than 15 years, and the actions of one should not tarnish all.

“A lot of these people are good people,” Hibberd said of the Pine Wood tenants. “They’re quiet, they keep to themselves, they pay their rent.”

The Pine Wood situation illustrates the need for more housing in the region, she said.

“Everybody is having a hard time finding housing and it’s a problem we don’t have a solution for,” said Hibberd. “The whole North Country — it’s a huge mess up here with housing.”

Ideally, all the Pine Wood tenants would be relocated by the end of the year, she said.

Hibberd has been working closely with Tri-County CAP and its homeless outreach coordinator, Bobbi-Sue Baker, who scheduled appointments for the tenants.

Bethlehem Selectman Chris Jensen helped out as well, picking up those who needed rides and driving them to their appointments.

“[CAP] started the funding process and that takes a few weeks before it kicks in,” said Hibberd. “If they can go to a motel or anything in between, we pick that up. It was nice to get a head start on that.”

Along with the help from CAP, a number of individuals reached out to Hibberd to offer items they had to the first tenant who moved and was in need.

“We want to thank all the community members who reached out and I encourage anybody that has any rentals to continue to reach out,” she said.

While Rudich has allowed those who need to remain at Pine Wood to stay for a few more days or weeks until they are ready to go into new housing, Hibberd said the problem remains about the ones who have yet to find a place and the two (the tenant with the signs and his fiancee) who have not communicated much with herself or Rudich.

“There may be that other step where [Rudich] goes back to court and when the sheriff shows up,” said Hibberd.

At the site on Thursday morning, Lagerstrom said the initial redevelopment plan was to demolish the motel/apartment units and build new.

But the existing structures can be renovated, and at less expense than taking them down, he said.

The work crew will go from one building to the other, and the renovations could be complete after a few months, said Lagerstrom.

Rudich is also considering buying the Memory Lane Apartments next door, he said.

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