The coronavirus has upended lives, created hardships and caused unintended consequences for every “06880” reader.
It’s affected every aspect of our lives: business, education, recreation. And — this being Westport — real estate.
The Vincents (not their real name) have owned a Westport home since 2013. In 2017 they headed to Europe for 2 to 5 years, on a business assignment.
They rented their Westport property on July 1, 2019. The tenants are a family of 3: father, mother, teenager. The husband is CFO and president of a Manhattan investment bank. On the rental application, he said his annual salary was over $2 million.
The tenants claimed to be in the process of building a home in Westport. A 1-year lease would work well for the Vincents, who by that point expected to return home in June 2020.
The owners noted a few unusual circumstances. The tenants initially refused to provide contact details — email, cell phone, etc. — and insisted that all communication go through their rental agent. Only at the Vincents’ insistence did they provide contact info — for the wife only.
The tenants also refused to set up direct debit for the monthly rental payment. They pay by check.
The tenants did not move into the house until late August. This past March — 3 1/2 months before the lease was to expire — the Vincents, out of courtesy and consideration for the COVID situation, notified the tenants of their inention to move back on July 1.
In a back-and-forth email exchange, it became clear that the renters had no intention of vacating the property. They cited the virus as the reason they could not find a new home.
They justified staying with what the Vincents call “a deliberate misrepresentation of the governor’s Executive Order of an Eviction Moratorium” — a regulation intended to prevent the eviction of tenants temporarily unable to pay rent, during the pandemic.
The Vincents say they were “given lip service that the tenants had no intention of ‘staying any longer in our house than absolutely necessary,’ and that they ‘hope to be out by the end of the summer.”
The owners were also told they “simply had to be flexible” given the unprecedented environment.
Requests for further communication of a firm moving date — even an inspection request after an $800 boiler repair — were flatly rejected.
Though the tenants cited coronavirus concerns as a reason for staying, the Vincents have photos showing them mingling in town, attending social gatherings and watching youth sports events — all without masks or social distancing.
In order to plan for their own move back to Westport, the owners offered a 12-month lease extension to the tenants. The Vincents would look for their own year-long rental — from a continent away — just to have certainty themselves, and accommodate their renters’ concerns.
The offer went unanswered.
Since May, communication has been solely through attorneys. Requests for updates were repeatedly rebuffed, and were described as causing the tenants “stress.”
In July, the Vincents learned that the tenants continue to use the owners’ home as the renters’ residency address. The Vincents told the school district that they were waiting to commence eviction proceedings.
The renters then provided the school with a lease on a new property, beginning September 1. Through their attorney, the Vincents asked the tenants to verify the new lease and timeline for moving. Three times — by their lawyer and realtor — the tenants said they had not secured a new lease, and had no intention of moving.
The Vincents wonder whether the lease on the new property is fraudulent.
Last Friday, the Vincents saw the tenants at a youth baseball game in town. They approached the renters in the parking lot. They introduced themselves, and asked the renters to vacate the home or at least tell them about their moving intentions.
The tenants threatened the owners with a restraining order, and said they would do nothing unless ordered to by a court. “Even our request to simply communicate with us was flat-out refused,” the Vincents say.
The eviction moratorium is supposed to protect people adversely affected by the virus, through unemployment, financial distress or illness, say the owners. “Our tenants fall in no such category, but shamelessly take advantage that courts are shut and no other enforcement rights are available to us.”
The owners have moved into an Airbnb in Westport. They have no idea when they can move back into the home they own.
They are paying lawyers, rent on their temporary house, and storage for their belongings shipped back from Europe.
The psychological stress on them and their children is equally profound.
“People like our tenants should not be allowed to call a wonderful community like Westport home,” the Vincents say. “Our friends are shocked when they hear our story, and are offering help in whatever way possible.”
That’s a harrowing story. When and how it will end is not at all clear.
And — say they Vincents — theirs is not the only story like this. They have heard of at least one other family in Westport in similar straits.