Two West Mt. Airy residents to leave after six-year fight with next door neighbor

For two Mt. Pleasant Avenue households, the street isn’t so agreeable as the name might imply. They’re dealing with what they say is a bad neighbor—so bad that they both want to move.

Merrill Hilf moved to the 500 block of West Mt. Pleasant with her partner almost seven years ago. But now she wishes she never had.

“It’s become just a horrible place to live,” she said. “We’ve been living here six and a half years and we’ve had probably a year and a half of peace.”

It all started, she says, when a tenant moved in with her next-door neighbor, a woman in her 50s living in a twin house not connected to Hilf’s. The tenant—a man in his 60s—uttered obscenities at Hilf every time she walked past and even at passersby on the sidewalk.

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“He has, in the past, screamed and yelled at people walking by and accusing them of things they didn’t do,” she said.

Phyllis Levitt, who lives on the other side attached to the twin house with her 98-year-old mother, says locals often avoid walking by.

“People who walk their dogs, babies, they don’t bother to come walk by us because they know about him,” she said, adding that the woman who owns the house is offensive too.

Both neighbors unsuccessfully sought support from other residents on the matter, but received virtually none. However, six neighbors—all of which either live on Glenn Echo Road or McCallum Street—hung gay pride flags when the woman uttered a homophobic slur at Hilf.

But Hilf says people focus too much on that particular incident, whereas the problem is much bigger.

“All the other stuff…didn’t get any attention,” she said.

Another issue with the unpleasant neighbors is the unkempt condition of the house.

“I could see she never cut the lawn or she the place on the exterior was falling apart and there were plenty of violations,” Levitt said.

“There are pieces of the roof falling off into Merrill’s property and into mine,” she added. “I’m going to have to fight for every single violation.”

Both Hilf and Levitt have gone to police—and Licensing and Inspection—with various complaints, to no avail.

“What the police have told us is that unless [the man] is threatening a person with bodily harm directly, not implied, he is not doing anything illegal,” Hilf said. “It is not illegal to scream obscenities or unprovoked hate speech.”

Eventually, with enough complaints to the police, the man was apparently evicted by the Sheriff’s Department, Hilf said. But that wasn’t the end of him.

“This past year right around Christmas a strange car started appearing,” she said.

Although the owner of the house has indicated the man no longer lives there, both Hilf and Levitt say his car is constantly there—parked in a space that he claims is his.

West Mt. Airy Neighbors to address the issue

Hilf reached out to the West Mt. Airy Neighbors (WMAN) to see if she could receive support there.

Dan Rhoton, the quality of life committee chair, says he gets a surprising amount of neighbor complaints each year—averaging between two and three.

What he typically does is hears both sides and provides an intervention.

Rhoton heard the complaint early May and has already set up time to speak with the other neighbors.

“I am going to talk to the neighbors in question,” he said. “Right now, we only have one side of the story.”

Rhoton said he doesn’t know what to make of the situation yet because he hasn’t heard every side.

But Hilf said she’s had enough and plans on moving. The lack of support she’s received is a big factor in her decision.

“Nobody is going to take a stand,” she said, adding that Mt. Airy has a good reputation for not tolerating poor behaviors and intolerance. “We’ll move and she’ll never leave. It will never change.”

“I think that Mt. Airy is no different than any other part of Philadelphia really,” she said. “It’s all block by block. If you happen to land on a good block, good for you.”

Levitt says she’s sad to see Hilf and her partner go, especially since she’s had such a good experience with them as neighbors.

“They’re my most caring neighbors,” she said. “I can’t even imagine someone else moving in there what they’ll do to the next people.”

She added: “but there’s nothing anyone can do, right?”

On Friday, a middle-aged man who answered the door of the West. Mt. Pleasant Avenue home that neighbors say is source of the problems, told NewsWorks that the allegations were not true. “They are made up,” the man said before quickly shutting the door.

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