Occupier Glen Steinburg, who’s taken on a landlord in the eviction process before, said he’s ready for another legal battle if the city wants Occupy New Haven off the Green.
Steinburg (pictured), who’s 36, offered his opinion on Tuesday morning, five days after a written demand from the city stating that Occupy must leave the Green by mid-March.
He said the city will have to go through legal eviction proceedings to uproot the encampment.
Irving Pinsky, a local attorney who’s taken on the title of “lawyer for Occupy,” agreed with Steinburg. He said the city will have to file a notice to quit and a writ, summons, and complaint in order to evict occupiers.
Asked for comment on whether eviction procedures were necessary, City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden said the following: “The City has put forth a proposal to Occupy New Haven that is both appropriate and lawful. At this point, nothing further needs to be said.”
The looming showdown between the city and its occupying forces marks a shift in relations. In the nearly five months since Occupy New Haven established itself on the Green, the encampment has become one of the longest-running outposts of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The leaderless protest is opposed to corporate greed, income inequality, and the outsize influence of money in politics.
Occupy New Haven has endured in large part because of a cooperative relationship with the city, which worked with the movement at the outset to determine the best place for it to set up. That relationship has become increasingly strained as winter wanes and the days grow longer.
In early February, the city started moving towards and end game with Occupy. Two meetings were held in City Hall between members of occupy and city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts. One of the meetings was also attended by Drew Days, head of the Proprietors of the Green, the self-perpetuating private body that legally owns the Green.
The two sides agreed that the city would come up with a proposal for Occupy’s future. The city issued a document to Occupy this past Thursday. The proposal gets right to the point: “Structures on the Green will be removed by mid-March,” reads the first sentence.
The proposal states that if it leaves by the time requested, Occupy may return periodically on the Green for intervals of up to one week, with permission.
The city’s statement also “affirmed the rights to assembly and free speech on the Green,” Smuts argued.
“In order to provide for fair access to the Green for all and consistent with the applicable law, the City and the Proprietors will require that reasonable time, place and manner guidelines be followed during any such activity, including but not limited to requiring permit approval prior to any such activity,” the proposal reads.
“It’s certainly not a sudden shift. We’ve been engaging with them since the beginning of February to talk about the fact that the Green is not meant for permanent use by any group,” Smuts said. “They will have to vacate the Green.”
Smuts acknowledged the city’s shift from allowing a five-month encampment to now limiting the occupation to one-week periods. “The big difference is that we were in the winter. We’re approaching the end of winter and with it comes all the other uses, both formal and informal, that make the Green the Green.”
Smuts said moving the occupation to another city park may still be an option. Occupy New Haven would have to propose something like that, and then the city would see if it possible, he said.
In other cities, occupations have ended with police coming in. Asked if that might happen in New Haven, Smuts said, “We’ve been very proud of having a different type of relationship here in New Haven. If possible, we’d like to continue it.”
Smuts said the city does not have a date for the end of Occupy more specific than “mid-March.”
Tuesday morning on the Green, Steinburg smoked a cigarette outside the tent he’s occupied for two and a half months with his girlfriend. He said he’s encouraging his fellow occupiers to arrange to receive mail at the post office with their address listed as “the Upper Green.” It’s part of an effort to buttress their claim to the land when the city tries to evict them.
“The city has to go through a certain process for eviction,” Steinburg said.
He said he’s been through it before. He was “burned by the IRS,” lost some money, and got into a battle with a landlord, he claimed. He said he was able to stay in his apartment for 60 or 90 days after the landlord tried to evict him. He’s been homeless for two years now and was living in East Rock park before he joined the occupation, he said.
“It looks like they have to go through a notice to quit and summary process,” said Attorney Pinsky. “If you have a tenant that doesn’t pay the rent, you can’t just go over there and lock them out. That’s a violation of the law.”
The city will have to send the occupiers a notice to quit, Pinsky said. “Then a certain amount of days have to go by, then they’d have to file a writ of summons.” A marshal would have to get involved to deliver documents; it might end up in arbitration or a trial, Pinsky said.
“‘Occupant’” is a big word in that statute,” Pinsky said, referring to state law on landlord-tenant responsibilities. The occupation was established with the “consent of a private landowner,” which gives occupiers legal standing as tenants, Pinsky said.
An attorney with 40 years of experience in housing court, who asked not to be named, disagreed with Pinsky. He looked up the relevant law, Chapter 830, Section 47a of the Connecticut General Statutes. Under the statute’s definitions, a “tenant” means someone occupying a dwelling unit under a rental agreement.
“I don’t think they have a rental agreement,” the lawyer, who asked not to be named, said of the occupiers.
“Obviously, this wasn’t contemplated” when the law was written, he said. “I can’t envision any interpretation of this statute by which they would be required to go to summary process.”
“It’s really tough to say what’s going to happen going forward,” said Ben Aubin, a non-camping member of Occupy New Haven. He said an Occupy New Haven General Assembly is planned for 6:30 p.m Wednesday.
Aubin offered a one-word response to the city’s proposal: “Nuts.”
It’s a reference to the Battle of the Bulge, when German forces had a Belgian town surrounded. They demanded the American soldiers inside surrender. General Anthony McAuliffe sent out the same one-word response.
Asked if he was comparing the city to Nazi invaders, Aubin declined to comment further.