Landlord says family must leave

Rent payment is cited in notice

A Harrisburg family found living in squalor last week is being ordered out of their house not only by the city but also by their landlord, who says they owe a partial month's rent.

Through his attorney, James Overstreet, property owner John B. Weigle Jr. sent a letter to his tenants last week, demanding they vacate for nonpayment.

Overstreet filed a dispossessory affidavit in Magistrate Court on Tuesday, another step in the eviction process, stating they're behind $320 on their $550 monthly rent.

The demand letter was dated Sept. 22, the day after License and Inspection officials visited the one-story bungalow at 223 Eve St., a few blocks from the Kroc Center construction site.

Responding to a complaint about an extension cord running from one house to another, inspectors found Rebecca Tankersley, her three grandsons and her two brothers living without electricity or running water, with jars of urine and a bag of feces in the house, rotting floors, a sagging ceiling, and more feces and buckets of urine in the backyard. The house was also roach-infested and so crammed with furniture and junk that it created a fire hazard.

Code Enforcement Manager Pam Costabile had it condemned for occupancy and told the family to have their things out by Friday. They're still in the house, though, because they're broke and have nowhere to go, said Tankersley's sister, Willie Bell

Tankersley, 53, is hospitalized at University Hospital. She has pancreatitis and diabetes, and the humiliation and stress of losing her home led to a physical breakdown Monday, her sister said.

A worker from Harrisburg's Mercy Ministries visited the house Tuesday, asking questions in hopes of finding a program or source of money to put a roof over their heads. Executive Director Fran Oliver said they might get help through rapid rehousing stimulus money, but she needs to talk to Tankersley to find out where she wants to live and what she can afford.

"These people need hope, more than they need anything," Oliver said.

Two of Tankersley's grandsons are mentally disabled, and the youngest, 15, has a juvenile criminal history, Bell said. Her brothers are also disabled, one saying he has an injured hip and shoulder, the other with prostate cancer and bronchitis.

Bell said her sister, who has been living off her grandsons' Social Security checks, fell behind on utility bills after being hospitalized last month and suffering a heart attack. She told The Augusta Chronicle on Monday that, despite what Weigle's letter said, Tankersley was current on her rent payments.

She apologized for that Tuesday, saying she made a mistake. Bell stood by her assertion, however, that Weigle has begun eviction proceedings only to cover himself.

Tankersley has gotten behind before, but her landlord worked with her, Bell said. She said he also promised he'd fix some of the structural problems cited by code enforcement.

"He wants to make it look like it's her fault, not his," she said.

Overstreet said that although the demand letter was dated the same day the news story broke, he started working on it before learning that the city condemned the house.

Neighborhood activist and mayoral candidate Lori Davis said she doesn't buy it, considering that Weigle kept the Tankersleys at the property even after three public protests by her activist group, including one in front of his home and another outside his workplace. Claiming 223 Eve St. was a drug house -- which the family strongly denies -- Davis sued Weigle unsuccessfully in Magistrate Court.

"He went to court for them, but now he's putting them out over $320?" Davis said.

Weigle has declined to speak to The Chronicle about the situation.

Family members told the newspaper Monday that, before the inspectors visited, they were siphoning electricity in to keep meat in the refrigerator cold. Since then, they've been using the bathroom at neighbors' houses, or using water from neighbors so they can flush the toilet.

Costabile, of License and Inspection, said she has never had tenants refuse to leave a condemned dwelling, and she is checking with the Law Department on what to do next.

With Weigle's dispossessory affidavit filed, the Marshal's Office will serve the Tankersleys with a court summons giving them seven days to respond. If they stay in the house, a hearing could be set at a later date.

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