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'Our worst nightmare': Tenants at Salem apartment complex left scrambling as management plans mass evictions

Westgate Arms
Courtesy
/
Eagle Tribune
This building and 11 others in the Westgate Arms complex must be vacated in order for extensive renovations to begin. There are 288 units total.

This article was originally produced by The Eagle Tribune. NHPR is republishing it in partnership with the Granite State News Collaborative

Eviction notices were delivered recently to the doors of 24 apartments in the Salem Westgate Arms complex, starting a 90-day countdown for residents to vacate in order for extensive renovations to begin in August.

The remaining 264 units — spread across 11 matching brick buildings — are next, according to Andrea Brown, senior vice president of operations at Gilbert G. Campbell Real Estate.

None of the tenants at Westgate Arms have a lease, meaning they pay rent month-to-month with the understanding that prices can be increased or an agreement terminated with only 30 days notice.

But collectively they’re shocked, now left to search for housing in a historically difficult market and less than a year after a federal eviction moratorium ended.

The most recent annual report from New Hampshire Housing, published each June, says the statewide 2-bedroom vacancy rate is 0.6%. A vacancy rate of 5% is considered a balanced market for tenants and landlords.

The median gross rent for those units was $1,500. That's 6% higher than the year before.

The report estimates that about 20,000 more housing units are needed to meet current demand and stabilize the market.

In explaining the mass evictions in Salem, Brown said the 55-year-old apartments need cosmetic renovations. Each building is expected to take three to four months to complete and will be staggered, one at a time.

The entire project is expected to be done near the end of 2024.

Among those horrified by the news is Donald Seeley, who moved in just 26 days prior to being evicted. The 32-year-old and his girlfriend are still recovering from the financial hit of a security deposit, first month’s rent and moving costs, he said.

"No one ever mentioned, ‘Hey we’re going to be doing building renovations' ... No one said, ‘If you move in, this is coming and you’ll have to move out.’”
Donald Seeley, who moved into the apartment complex 26 days prior to being evicted

Looking back, he counts at least four conversations with property management — about how to access a smartphone application to pay rent, submitting maintenance requests and to ask whether he could have a grill outside for Memorial Day weekend.

“Out of all those times, no one ever mentioned, ‘Hey we’re going to be doing building renovations,’” he said. “No one said, ‘If you move in, this is coming and you’ll have to move out.’”

Homelessness, he fears, is a possibility come Aug. 15.

Also on the hunt for a new place to live is Karyn Davis, 32, who calls the eviction “our worst nightmare.”

“We’ve searched non-stop for a week now and haven’t found anything right away. One apartment we were going to see, I called to confirm the showing, and I was told someone else had already signed the lease,” she said. “I’ve called everywhere from here to Hudson, Derry, Londonderry, Nashua, and I found nothing.”

Davis, her fiance and their 2-year-old boy could be forced to temporarily split up: she and the baby to her mother’s home in town and her partner to Ohio, where his family lives.

“We’re not finding anything here in New Hampshire, so if he goes out to Ohio he might just have to find something for all of us there,” Davis said.

A copy of the eviction notices obtained by The Eagle-Tribune states that tenants are welcome to reapply for the newly renovated apartments as they become available.

Brown says the price point, however, is not yet known.

“It’s not going to be some of the pricing they’re seeing at other villages,” she said.

Financial incentives are being offered to encourage the current tenants to move out sooner — $500 and the immediate return of a security deposit, if applicable, by July 15 and $250 to leave by July 31.

Tenants of Westgate Arms who spoke with The Eagle-Tribune said their rent ranges from $975 to about $1,200 monthly.

“There is no fight. We’re tenants at will. But the property has always been that way and we’ve never felt scared for stability due to that fact,” said 19-year resident Gloria Petrakos. “We were treated fairly by Mr. Gilbert Campbell.”

She said, “Nothing stays the same forever, but the way this has been done, the way it's been handled...We feel like 90 days is condemning all of us to homelessness.”

According to an obituary, Campbell died in Sept. 2021. He was 91.

The Westgate Arms eviction notice is signed by Gilbert’s son, Gary Campbell, chief executive officer. He could not be reached for comment.

Word has spread quickly around the apartment complex, inciting panic among those who are now anticipating eviction without a timeline.

Thirty-year-old mother of two Jessica Bonifas, her husband and their daughters have lived in their apartment for seven years.

“Our 11-year-old is going to middle school in September, and now we’re not sure if we’ll be in Salem for her to go to Woodbury. We’re scrambling to figure out if we have to go to another school district,” she said. “Even though we haven’t gotten our notice yet, we cannot wait. No one in the office can give us a timeline, but we have to think about the girls’ school year starting.”

The Campbells also have apartment complexes in Manchester, Derry, Dover and Nashua. Brown says wait lists for those locations are generally four to nine months. Someone seeking a unit with two bedrooms and two bathrooms is likely to wait well over a year.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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