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NJ.com: Carter: Landlords say Newark man refuses to pay rent, trashes apartments, then ties them up in court


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Carter: Landlords say Newark man refuses to pay rent, trashes apartments, then ties them up in court

He looks like an attorney in his crisp gray suit, white shirt and red patterned tie.

Not only does he dress the part, Mark Newton knows the law. In fact, an exhaustive Star-Ledger review of his court filings shows that for at least 19 years he has made Superior, chancery, federal and municipal courtrooms his virtual offices, representing himself in hundreds of court battles — though he has no license to practice law.

His specialty? Avoiding eviction. And he is relentlessly effective.

Interviews with landlords and neighbors and an examination of court documents provide a portrait of a man waging an almost continual war of attrition, fighting one eviction after another for years on end, filing lawsuits, complaints, subpoenas, asking for judge recusals and seeking postponements. He sometimes has multiple cases going simultaneously in different courts, always acting pro se, meaning he is his own "lawyer."

Neighbors, judges, landlord’s family members and attorneys all have found themselves in Newton’s crosshairs. If there is a more active pro se litigant in New Jersey, no one has heard of it. Mark Newton is the pro se king.

"He learned to work the system in such a way that he could take me to several different courts,’’ said Karyn Stewart, who claims she spent $5,000 in attorney fees trying to evict Newton. "There’s probably not a landlord in Essex County who doesn’t know Mark Newton. Somebody has got to put a stop to him.’’

The Newton system, according to court documents and dozens of interviews with adversaries, goes something like this: The 51-year old Newark man moves his family into an apartment or house, and soon stops paying rent. He then complains about unsavory living conditions that, landlords say, he created. At some point, his attack escalates and conditions in the rented apartment or house worsen, lawyers and landlords say. Newton continues to complain. Next, lawyers and landlords say, he calls code enforcement and accuses landlords of renting substandard housing.

From there, the legal battle is on.

It starts in municipal court, where landlords must answer Newton’s alleged code violations. Eventually, the fight moves to eviction proceedings in the Landlord/Tenant Section of state Superior Court.

Newton, in a brief interview — the only one he would grant for this story — said he has done nothing wrong and that the fault lies with landlords who rent substandard apartments. He also said judges and lawyers are against him.

"I’m not liked by a lot of lawyers and judges," Newton said. "Judges don’t like it when you’re pro se."



It is a late January morning in Superior Court, Judge Mahlon Fast presiding.

The day’s proceedings involve an attempt by Wells Fargo to evict Newton from 80 St. Paul Ave. in Newark where he has lived rent-free for nearly two years, according to testimony. To the lay observer, this might seem like a routine eviction from a foreclosed Newark house. Wells Fargo was assigned by the owner of the house, U.S. Bank National Association, to service the property, and it filed eviction papers when Newton stopped paying rent.

But Newton is about to use one of his many strategies. If he were writing a book, this one might get its own chapter.

The tenant asks to address the bench.

"It’s not a pleasant thing to do," he tells Judge Fast, making the observer think he’s almost embarrassed when he asks the judge to step aside because he doesn’t think he can get a fair hearing.

Judge Fast does so reluctantly, so a new judge will have to be appointed. It’s not the only time this has worked for Newton. Court records show he got Judge Fast to recuse himself nine years ago, and he also won a request for Judge Francine Schott to step aside in 2003.

Not that challenging judges is the only tactic in his bag of tricks.

Newton files motions to transfer cases. He files appeals, many of which have gone to the state Appellate Division. He seeks adjournments.

Subpoenas are also an effective legal weapon, and so is arguing he has not been properly served with court papers. Sometimes he just doesn’t appear, sending word he and his wife, Andrea, are sick or have a family trip, court records show. In many eviction battles, Newton also files harassment complaints and other actions against landlords, keeping them tangled up in court.

In tracing Newton’s history, The Star-Ledger found a man who, for at least the past 19 years, doesn’t seem to do much that doesn’t involve a courthouse. Records from landlord- tenant court show he and his wife have fought at least seven evictions, filing 113 complaints against landlords, neighbors and others in Newark municipal court — some of them multiple complaints against the same person. Most, if not all, were either dismissed or the person they complained about was found not guilty.

That’s not to say Newton always comes away empty-handed.

In 2007, he received a $14,000 settlement from Rosa Velarde, a real estate agent from Elizabeth. In his complaint, according to Superior Court records, he said Velarde agreed to rent him an apartment on Oakland Terrace in Newark, then backed out after taking Newton’s damage deposit. Newton sued and accepted a cash settlement. In other eviction struggles, Newton has received some rental abatements for repairs he said he has made, but he was still evicted when he didn’t pay rent.

For their part, Newton’s former landlords say they have spent anywhere from $5,000 to $60,000 in attorney fees and up to four years in court trying to get him evicted.

By now, a reader may wonder why people keep renting to Newton.

In two instances, adversaries say, Newton was already a tenant when landlords purchased rental property. One landlord said he didn’t trust his instincts and regrettably took the word of someone else. Another landlord said she just didn’t do any checks with previous landlords. Wells Fargo bank won’t comment. Nor will judges and other court officials.

Attorneys say once landlords have gone up against Newton, they don’t forget him.

"He’ll use every legal maneuver that he can possibly think of to try and tie up a case until the litigants that are against him give up," said attorney Vincent Sanzone, who faced Newton in a case involving a landlord. "He has a lot of time and resources to tie people up."

What’s more, according to Superior Court records, Newton defends himself at little or no cost because he applies for — and is granted — indigent status, meaning he doesn’t have to pay to file law complaints that cost $200 a pop and fees associated with his defense.

On recent fee-waiver applications, Newton says he has no income and his benefits from the Essex County Division of Welfare have been terminated. He says he owns a 1997 Plymouth mini-van that he drives to court. He also drives a white Ford Explorer. He says he has four dependents, and that his rent is $500, which he’s not paying because he’s in court with the bank.

The Newtons sometimes come to court as a team.

Newton’s wife, who, according to records is 42, sometimes represents herself and sometimes argues alongside him. An emergency assistance application shows the Newtons have two sons and a daughter. One son, Qadir, 19, sometimes accompanies his father in the current landlord tenant case, wearing a suit to court and Converse sneakers or shoes. He assists his dad, retrieving papers for him from a bag teeming with documents.

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Somehow, I'm actually kind of satisfied to see landlords get ****ed over.

I've had four, and all seemed like nice peope in the beginning, and all are well-off, but money makes me people scumbags. Only one was a nice person.

Two landlords: Did not return security deposit with statement of expenses. Since it was only a few hundred dollars in each case, I did not bother pursuing it through legal means.

Current landlord: Religious guy who threatened to evict me and told me I was responsible for paying off the entire lease even if evicted because I had my girlfriend over for a week. I mean he went berserk. My lease states that I can be the only one in my place, so I guess it is my fault, but come on... Eviction? We'll see if he returns my security deposit which isn't just a few hundred.

Nice landlord: Fixed HVAC, fixed plumbing problems, etc. all on their own dime without me having to pay a deductible. Even refunded me when I did something on my own without contacting them first. Was unable to give them two months notice of moving out as per lease, but were flexible with me.

And of course commercial apartment properties that nickel and dime you for everything once you try to move out...

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My parents have a 4 unit building at N.C.'s obx and a condo. They spend almost as much time trying to get good people to rent.

I've helped on the cleanup and sometimes it is mask and overalls awful. Rent apparently is 'optional' until eviction and then its incremental.

They recently have tried and only rent to Marines at the nearest base saying they party hard but they also clean up before they leave to the point you couldnt tell they were there. (The company commander is always helpful also). but those equal opportunity laws about sloths living inside stays around also ;).

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Eviction laws in the US really need to be updated. This guy is an extreme case but this happens to investors all the time. A close friend of mine fought for over a year to have people evicted from one of this properties costing him over 20k in lost rent and significant legal bills. When people don't want to pay they can drag out the process too easily.

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