RODMAN — A retired couple here is being evicted from the house they have lived in for 40 years because they haven't paid rent for 23 years to the home's owner — their son.
The eviction of Shirley R. and Theodore I. Hart from 11753 Washington Park Road was scheduled for 9 a.m. today, the culmination of years of arguing with their son, Theodore R. "Teddy" Hart, over rent, taxes and upkeep of the home. The fight has fractured the family and forced eight siblings to choose sides, while some neighbors have offered to help the Harts move out this week.
"I shouldn't have to pay for two people who have a pension and Social Security," Teddy Hart said over the phone from his office in Washington, D.C. "I've paid for them to live there for 23 years and I just can't afford it anymore."
Teddy Hart, who owns Hart Philanthropic Services Group, a business that connects philanthropists with charities, said he has paid $30,000 in taxes, insurance and upkeep during that time.
"They've never contributed to their own well-being, and 23 years is as far as I could go," he said. "It's an ugly, horrible story. My family is making me out to be the Ebenezer Scrooge. But in reality, I've kept a house over their heads for years."
Mr. Hart, 71, a retired state worker, and Mrs. Hart 66, a homemaker, bought the house in 1970. But in the late 1980s, Mrs. Hart asked her son for financial help when it appeared the house was going to be auctioned off for back taxes.
Teddy, who was in college at the time, said he hesitantly agreed to help, although he didn't have the money needed to buy the house at tax auction. So he contacted T. Urling Walker for help.
"Ted came to me and said he needed to buy the house," said Mr. Walker, who at the time was mayor of Watertown.
Mr. Walker said he agreed to co-sign a loan for $3,000, the amount needed to bid to buy the house.
Teddy Hart said his parents agreed to make monthly payments to him until he got the $3,000 back. Then he would put the house back in their names.
Mr. Walker said the debt eventually was paid back by Teddy, not his parents.
"Ted told me that his parents have not given a cent to him for rent," Mr. Walker said. "Ted paid all of the taxes and the expenses for the house."
"It was never my intention to keep the house," Teddy said. "I've been trying for 25 years to get the deed back in their names. I don't want this burden anymore."
Teddy said his mother paid back just $300 of the $3,000. But Mrs. Hart contends she has canceled checks for more payments packed away in boxes that are now in a storage unit. She said she never asked for receipts for the cash she said they gave Teddy because he was their son.
"We've bought this house several times over," Mrs. Hart said. "We paid back that money. He had everything on his computer, and then when he moved to Maryland it all somehow got erased."
Teddy said his mother never made good on her word. And when the first tax bill for the house arrived addressed to Teddy, he said, his mother told him it was his responsibility.
John P. Hart, who lives in Ohio, agrees with his brother's actions against their parents.
"They are not very good people," John Hart said. "This eviction is not mean-spirited. It's just children finally standing up to their parents."
However, another sibling, Deborah L. Filanski, who lives in North Carolina, said what her brother is doing is wrong.
"He's done everything in his power to destroy this family," she said. "He has had years to throw Mom and Dad out. What was he waiting for? The middle of the winter, I guess."
Teddy said he had nothing to do with the date of the eviction.
"This has been ongoing since June," he said. "All the legal wrangling that has been done and all the delays is why it's happening in February."
Mr. Walker said he encouraged Teddy at one point to foreclose on the house.
"He has been delaying it because he doesn't want to put his parents out," Mr. Walker said. "But he's at the point where this needs to be settled. It's time he lower the boom."
Mrs. Filanski said she and her husband tried to talk with Teddy about buying the house from him to give back to their parents.
"He always came up with excuses," Mrs. Filanski said. "My husband and I tried to buy it, but he wouldn't let us. I remember in high school he would always say, 'That house is my inheritance.'"
Teddy said his sister never approached him to buy the house.
"She can have it for $25,000," he said. "I accept her offer. Where is she? What has she done to help them?"
Both Teddy and John said their parents have another house they own nearby, a small house on 12 acres of land.
"My mother inherited $200,000 from an aunt that died about six years ago," Teddy said. "She certainly didn't pay me back with that money, but she was able to buy a house. I found out about that house about a year ago; that's why I can evict them and not feel bad about it."
Mrs. Hart denied she used the inheritance to buy the house. She said the house was given to her by an elderly man before he moved into an assisted living facility.
"He owed money on the land and we paid it off over time," Mrs. Hart said, "just like we paid off the debt to Teddy."
Mrs. Hart said that she gave away most of the inheritance to her other children and that one of her sons lives in the second house.
She said her son first tried to evict them in 2006, while her 90-year-old mother lay dying in the dining room. Both have differing accounts of what happened.
"He made us sign this contract when my mother, his grandmother, was dying," she said as she held back tears. "He was screaming and yelling at us, threatening to throw us out then. My mother was dying; what could I do?"
The contract required monthly payments of $285 to cover years of back taxes and insurance and said that upkeep and maintenance were the responsibility of Mr. and Mrs. Hart, not the landlord.
Teddy said his parents made 11 payments — or $3,135 — before they stopped.
Mrs. Hart said she told her son they couldn't make the payments anymore and he told her they could stop paying.
Teddy said that conversation never took place.
Now, Mr. and Mrs. Hart will pack up 40 years of belongings and figure out where to go and what to do. Community members have offered to help.
Lee Barbur, Mannsville, said the situation is terrible.
"How could a son kick his parents out of their home in the middle of winter in the north country?" Mr. Barbur said.
He found out about the eviction when Mrs. Hart called him to donate some household items that Mr. Barbur fixes up and distributes to needy families. He has helped the Harts pack their belongings and said he will store some of them in his home.
Mrs. Hart has had both feet operated on and shuffles about the house with removable air casts on them.
Mr. Hart moves slowly and walks with a cane. He has had triple bypass surgery and requires a continuous positive air pressure machine whenever he lies down. He said he also has Alzheimer's disease. This situation has escalated the disease, said another son, James Hart, who lives in Florida.
"Dad was the calmest person you ever met," Jim said. "Then I hear that he's raising his hands at people, cursing at them. That's not my father. That's the Alzheimer's. That's not him."
Teddy said he isn't sure it's true his father is diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
"I don't know that to be a fact," he said. "He represented himself in court. Sure it adds to the flavor of the story. Yes, they are older people, but they are not by any means elderly."
The Harts said they would be gone before today.
"I don't expect anything in that house to be in working order," Teddy said. "I'm sure they will trash the place before they leave."
The house is in need of repair. The roof leaks, the foundation is crumbling, the septic tank leaks and heat is provided by a wood stove that was given to the Harts by friends.
The Harts said they plan to pack up their dog, five cats, two guinea pigs and a parrot and drive their 1986 motor home until it runs out of gasoline.
"We'll just wait for the 15th (of February) when we get our Social Security," Mrs. Hart said. "I guess we'll just live like hippies and go as far south as we can."