“There is no greater hell than
to be a prisoner of fear.”
— Ben Jonson (1572-1637) English dramatist, poet and actor
Samantha lives on an unassuming street in the metro St. John’s area. Her house has two apartments, one of which is hers and the other is the home of her elderly parents.
They’ve been at the same address for years, but lately they’ve noticed the neighbourhood changing.
And we’re not talking gentrification or commercialization or industrialization.
We’re talking a recent, pervasive type of change that has — in roughly one year — turned her comfortable, familiar neighbourhood into a menacing place where she feels like she has to live under a self-imposed lockdown.
Samantha — whose real name and address are being withheld because she’s fearful of reprisals — is pretty sure the tenants in the basement apartment next door have a well-established, home-based enterprise that is quite the going concern.
“They’re good at what they’re doing,” she said. “There’s people coming and going all the time.”
Samantha suspects the couple is selling drugs and she says they’re not exactly subtle about it. She said she was driving down the street one Saturday afternoon and saw the man engaged in a suspicious-looking transaction with a younger man on the side of the road.
“He was doing a deal right out in the street,” she said. “There’s a playground in this area and there’s kids down there all the time.
“There has been an awful lot of activity next-door,” she added. “Police have come and removed people in handcuffs with bloody faces. The ambulance has been there more than once, taking away the man or the woman. … People are parking in our driveway, coming to the wrong house. You have to pretend you’re not home. We’ve become more vigilant.”
Unwilling to move
Samantha said the property where the couple lives is looked after by a rental agency which has gone to arbitration to try to have them evicted, with no luck.
“It’s the agency’s word against theirs,” she said. “It seems like the tenants, no matter how bad they are, they’re protected. They’re over there drinking and partying and passing out. They’re ruining it for everybody. Other neighbours are petrified. They’re bad enough, but it’s the element they’re bringing to the neighbourhood. I’m terrified.”
Samantha said her parents are friendly people who will chat with anyone who happens by, but she’s warned them not to speak to anyone they don’t know.
“Our doors are locked here 24/7,” she said. “Even if my dad is out mowing the lawn, the doors are locked. We do not feel safe in our own house. Other people on the street feel the same way.”
She said she worries that the couple’s customers might be scoping out her house, noticing when there’s nobody home or taking into account that her parents are older and trusting.
“There’s definitely no sense of security here in the neighbourhood now,” she said.
“I’ve slept with a knife next to me.”
A complicated process
Samantha said the rental agency has tried to get the couple out of the apartment three or four times.
They’ve been given another eviction notice, but she worries that the date will come and go and the couple will just ignore it.
They can be evicted, even if they regularly pay their rent, on the basis of interfering with their neighbours’ right to the peaceful enjoyment of their own property, but if they simply refuse to move out the process gets more complicated.
The Department of Government Services will not comment on specific cases, but a spokesman explained how such a case would be handled:
“Next step would be for the landlord to contact the Consumer and Commercial Affairs branch of the Department of Government Services,” he said.
“Our officers will then review the situation and if required, assist the landlord in making application for an order of possession of their property. Following this, there is a hearing with landlord and tenant, presided over by an adjudicator. The landlord and tenant then review their positions, etc., and the adjudicator will send the final decision by mail.”
Samantha doesn’t know if she’s willing to wait that long. And she realizes that if the couple does move out, the problem will likely just shift to another neighbourhood.
“It’s very unsettling,” she said. “There seems to be nothing we can do except move ourselves. We’re paying taxes. It’s not fair.
“My parents have lived here all this time and they don’t want to move. And why should they have to? But I feel trapped inside my house. Every time a car comes down the street, you wonder who’s that? I’m constantly on edge. … Windows and doors are checked and rechecked.”
Samantha knows her neighbourhood isn’t the only one that has been contaminated with criminal activity. She’d always heard about break-ins and holdups, but she never expected things to hit so close to home.
So close, that home no longer feels like home.
“We are looking at other houses,” she says with resignation. “I’m ready to go.”
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.