Kenneth Wylie and Jessica Barron
BENTON – Granite City residents challenging the constitutionality of a compulsory eviction ordinance won a temporary order keeping them in their homes.
U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle granted a restraining order against the city on Oct. 9, and set a hearing on a preliminary injunction Oct. 23.
“There can be no adequate remedy at law for the loss of a home,” she wrote. “Plaintiffs are poor and do not have the resources to immediately rent another property.”
In Granite City, rental leases and installment sales contracts that don’t exceed five years all include an addendum stating that criminal activity violates the lease. The addendum applies to tenants, their guests, and others under their control, everywhere they go in the city.
Per ordinance, when police notify a landlord of a violation, the landlord must remove the tenant promptly, diligently, and lawfully. If a landlord fails to do so, the city can revoke the business license for the property and issue a citation for operating out of compliance.
William Campbell, owner of 1632 Maple Street, did not comply with the ordinance.
In June, he told police he wouldn’t evict Jessica Barron, Kenneth Wylie, and their three children.
The Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va., filed a constitutional complaint for all three on Aug. 1.
Samuel Gedge of the institute wrote that police repeatedly called Campbell to insist that Barron and Wylie had to go.
“On one occasion, an officer confronted Jessica at city hall and declared that he was personally evicting her,” Gedge wrote.
He wrote that twice, officers pounded on the door to serve demands.
“The basis for the city’s campaign is not that Jessica and Kenny have done anything wrong,” Gedge wrote. “It is that a friend of their 16-year-old son broke into a restaurant elsewhere in town.”
According to the complaint, the friend often spent time at the home. Police caught him because Barron discovered him, alerted police, and helped them arrest him.
And, of the more than 300 eviction demands the city issued since 2014, more than 100 cited crimes didn’t take place at the rental property.
On Aug. 2, in district court, Gedge moved for a preliminary injunction.
He wrote that Wylie operated a forklift and Barron was struggling to find work.
City attorney Erin Phillips opposed an injunction on Aug. 16, writing that any alleged harm was too remote and speculative for injunctive relief.
She argued that the city couldn’t evict Barron and Wylie and couldn’t take action against Campbell until the hearing officer reached a decision.
She wrote that police denied threatening to arrest Campbell.
“Officer Tim Bedard denies threatening to arrest plaintiff Campbell,” Phillips wrote.
She wrote that Barron and Wylie weren’t being punished for someone else’s crime; that that the burglar stayed in their home for multiple days at a time; that he stored stolen items there in May and June and that allowing him to stay there and failing to exercise requisite control and supervision violated the ordinance.
Phillips moved to dismiss the complaint on Aug. 23, writing that Barron and Wylie faced potential eviction “because they allowed Lynch to commit a crime.”
She wrote that their failure created a threat to the health, safety and welfare of others in the city.
On Oct. 7, the Institute for Justice also filed a complaint for Deborah Brumit and Andrew Simpson of 7 Briarcliff Drive.
Gedge wrote that one of Brumit’s adult daughters, who didn’t live with her, stole a van elsewhere in town.
He wrote that Brumit delivered a grievance to the building and zoning administrator around June 22.
He wrote that at a hearing on July 22, landlord Clayton Baker said the daughter hadn’t lived there as far as he knew.
Gedge wrote that the hearing officer’s decision stated, “A violation has occurred pursuant to Granite City ordinance,” and the title of the ordinance.
He wrote that on information and belief, the hearing officer recites the identical findings of fact in other hearings.
He wrote that they contain the same typographical errors and that Brumit and Simpson care for grandchildren three years and 18 months old.
“Clayton Baker does not want to evict Debi and Andy,” he wrote.
He filed a motion for consolidation with the first action.
Yandle granted temporary restraining orders in both actions on Oct. 9, finding plaintiffs faced imminent homelessness.
“Whatever harm the city will suffer from being enjoined from evicting plaintiffs pales in comparison to the loss of one’s home,” Yandle wrote.
She wrote that Brumit and Simpson live paycheck to paycheck.
She wrote that Barron and Wylie spent two years paying on their installment contract with the aim of owning their own home.
Both face homelessness and loss of investment, she wrote.
“Finally, given the constitutional rights involved, the court declines to require plaintiffs to post a security,” Yandle wrote.
She separately granted consolidation for purposes of her Oct. 23 hearing, and wrote that after that, she would hold it in abeyance until the parties brief it.