Updated Feb 14, 2022 - News

Rental dispute in West Philadelphia is heading to court

Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture
Long-time housing activist Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture wears a bulletproof vest in her West Philly rental home. Photo courtesy of Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture

About one week ago, long-time Philadelphia housing activist Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture received a 30-day notice to move out of the West Philly home she's been renting since 2019.

  • A day later, Nkrumah-Ture said the new owner and his family demanded she leave immediately, setting off a weeklong dispute that she says has escalated to multiple intimidation tactics, including being locked in her bedroom and threatened with a gun.

Why it matters: Nkrumah-Ture's claims, which have drawn multiple police visits and city involvement, are raising calls for more tenant protections as Philadelphia's rental assistance runs dry and its Landlord-Tenant Court is backlogged with cases.

  • Community Legal Services (CLS) said there has been a rise in illegal evictions in Philadelphia over the past several years.

Yes, but: Unlawful evictions are hard to track in Philly because there isn’t much data available.

Driving the news: Nkrumah-Ture and her lawyer, Vikram Patel of CLS, filed an emergency injunction in Landlord-Tenant Court against the new owner, Alvan Morrison, and other occupants, on Thursday.

  • Her hearing is set for Wednesday. It was originally scheduled for Feb. 21, but she and Patel successfully petitioned to push up the date.

State of play: The timeline of events, as told by Nkrumah-Ture and Patel, unfolded as follows:

  • More than a week ago, former owner Terence Small sold the property Nkrumah-Ture is renting to Morrison.
  • On Feb. 5, Morrison gave Nkrumah-Ture a 30-day notice to vacate. The notice states that Morrison will be moving into the property and that Nkrumah-Ture will be considered a "housemate" who is only renting a bedroom on a month-to-month basis.
  • Nkrumah-Ture's version of the lease states that she's entitled to exclusive use of the property for a month, according to her legal complaint.

The following day, a man identifying himself as the new owner's brother demanded that she move out immediately. The family began moving in.

  • Morrison and other individuals returned to the property over the next few days — and police were called multiple times.

Cellphone video footage provided to Axios captured several of the confrontations.

  • One from Feb. 8 shows the man who identified himself as Morrison's brother cursing at Nkrumah-Ture and tossing around her furniture.

Last Thursday, Nkrumah-Ture alleged that Morrison and family members locked her in her bedroom and attempted to cut off her internet service.

  • That same day, police were called, and Nkrumah-Ture and Patel filed the emergency injunction.

Between the lines: Nkrumah-Ture said her version of the lease isn't the same as the one the owner provided to police last week. It remains unclear why there are two versions of the lease.

  • Morrison declined Axios' request for comment.

Context: Nkrumah-Ture told Axios she's known Small wanted to sell the property for months and launched a GoFundMe to raise money for her impending move.

  • She filed a complaint with the Fair Housing Commission in January after she discovered Small didn't have a rental license.
  • City records show Small has owned the property since 2016 but only obtained a rental license last month despite renting to Nkurmah-Ture for nearly two years.

What they're saying: Nkrumah-Ture said she's not leaving and that she's had friends and fellow activists stay with her in shifts to ensure she remains safe.

City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier visited the house last week to mediate the situation and even called the city's police commissioner for clarity on the matter.

  • She told Axios that "property and ownership does not matter more than people's wellbeing and how they're treated within our community."

Small and the Philadelphia Police Department didn't respond to requests for comment as of late Sunday.

Of note: Axios attempted to reach Morrison for comment several times.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add that Nkrumah-Ture's hearing has been pushed up to this Wednesday.

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