‘Eviction by intimidation’: Philly housing activist heads to court with hopes of settling landlord dispute

A closeup of Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture

Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture is battling an illegal eviction from her home in West Philadelphia and facing harassment from her landlord. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture is beyond exhausted.

For more than a week, the two-story twin she rents in West Philadelphia has been a battleground for a hostile fight rooted in tenant rights, with Nkrumah-Ture and other housing activists on one side and the new property owner, Alvan Morrison, and his associates on the other.

She hopes the distressing situation will be over soon so she can move out in peace.

“My nerves are shot,” said Nkrumah-Ture. “I’ll probably have to see a therapist when this is finally over.”

Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture stands inside a dining room
Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture is battling an illegal eviction from her home in West Philadelphia and facing harassment from her landlord. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
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Nkrumah-Ture’s battle moves to Common Pleas Court on Wednesday. During a virtual hearing, her lawyer will ask a judge to grant an emergency injunction, which would effectively force Morrison to back down, something he has refused to do despite numerous requests, according to the complaint filed on Nkrumah-Ture’s behalf, which argues he breached his contract with her while also violating state and city law.

“I am feeling hopeful, but very anxious,” she said of the hearing. “There is overwhelming evidence that I am not safe here if I don’t have this emergency injunction.”

Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture points to a padlock she installed on her bedroom
Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture points to a padlock she installed on her bedroom at her home in West Philadelphia as she’s facing harassment from her landlord and an illegal eviction. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Morrison declined to comment. “We’ve been advised not to do too much talking,” he said.

The case stems from a series of events that started on Feb. 5. That’s when Nkrumah-True says she got a notice from Morrison that she had 30 days to move out of the Cobbs Creek property she’s lived in since August 2019. The notice also said that Morrison would be moving in and that Nkrumah-Ture would be “considered a housemate” until she left, according to the complaint.

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The next morning, Morrison showed up with boxes and told Nkrumah-Ture to get out.

Nkrumah-Ture, a member of the Philadelphia Tenants Union, knew exactly what was happening. While they’re difficult to quantify, illegal evictions are common in Philadelphia.

Vikram Patel, the housing attorney representing Nkrumah-Ture, said they take many forms.

“We see situations where the landlord will show up and remove the door or remove the windows, or just show up and change the locks, or shut off someone’s utilities — shut off their gas in the winter, shut off their electric so they don’t have air conditioning in the summer,” said Patel, who works for Community Legal Services.

A landlord trying to force a tenant out by moving in is far less common, he said.

“This case is sort of an extreme example of what many Philadelphians are facing, namely that their safety, their health are being put into jeopardy because a landlord unlawfully evicted them,” said Patel.

Either way, Nkrumah-Ture had no intention of going anywhere, even as things escalated over the next few days and into this week.

Last Tuesday, they allegedly told Nkrumah-Ture that they were licensed to carry firearms and that they were going to start shooting anyone in the house. Two days later, they allegedly locked her in her bedroom with two friends. The lock wasn’t removed until she called the police and officers ordered one of the associates to free the group, according to the complaint.

It wasn’t the first time she called the police last week. City Councilmember Jaime Gauthier, who represents parts of West Philadelphia, also visited the home on South 55th Street with hopes of mediating the dispute.

“It’s eviction by bullying. It’s eviction by intimidation. It’s eviction to get you to move out quicker because they’re gonna come in, bring in all their things, bring in their furniture, bring in their noisy family members and friends and make me feel so uncomfortable I will leave quicker than 30 days,” said Nkrumah-Ture.

Morrison has not slept at the property, but Nkrumah-Ture said others have on multiple occasions, bringing in beds so they could stay over in one of the house’s empty bedrooms. In turn, Nkrumah-Ture has had friends sleepover to help keep her safe.

Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture (center), with two friends who have been staying with her
Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture (center), with two friends who have been staying with her since her landlords started harassing her last week. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

If a judge grants the preliminary injunction on Wednesday, they will be legally barred from doing that again until Nkrumah-Ture moves out, something she ironically may have already been in the process of doing had she not had to cancel all of the apartment viewings she set up last week in order to deal with everything.

When she does finally move, the administrative assistant may have enough money for an entire year’s worth of rent thanks to a GoFundMe campaign launched to help her.

As of Tuesday morning, the campaign had raised more than $6,000, double the original goal.

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