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Arbitrator: McNamee premises uninhabitable

by:  ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Crystal Spencer invited the Estacada News to observe her living conditions in December. At the time, she was renting a room in a converted carport on Ethel 'Punki' McNamee's property across the street from Clackamas River Elementary.

Crystal Spencer has long claimed that the blue-gray residence across the street from Clackamas River Elementary — owned by Ethel “Punki” McNamee — is uninhabitable.

And now an arbitrator has agreed with her.

The property has made headlines over the years stemming from a prolonged battle with the city of Estacada regarding the legality of allowing people to rent and live in an unusual assortment of structures on the property.

In 2012, an Estacada municipal judge ordered McNamee to evict residents from buildings in her backyard. The situation drew statewide headlines.

McNamee, along with tenants and long-term visitors, said publicly that the evicted people would have nowhere to go. Especially without a nearby homeless shelter.

The city was concerned with code violations and the safety of structures people were living in on McNamee’s property.

by:  JIM CLARK - Ethel 'Punki' McNamee has long allowed the down-on-their luck to stay on her property. Some paid rent, others traded chores or work or simply crashed there. Many of the tenants and visitors of the property have had serious road blocks to acquiring traditional housing such as disability, disease and criminal records. An argument raged across news publications’ comment sections: Was McNamee a charitable woman sheltering the would-be homeless, or an opportunistic slumlord?

Spencer invited the Estacada News to observe her living conditions at the residence in December. At the time, she was renting a space in a converted carport from McNamee.

The Estacada News reported on Spencer’s allegations of unsafe and illegal living conditions in an article published Dec. 26.

Days after speaking with the Estacada News in December, Spencer was served with a 72-hour notice of nonpayment of rent, which was later dropped.

Spencer subsequently was served with a 24-hour notice for alleged outrageous acts in late January.

The question of Spencer’s eviction was contested in court, but she lost and was required to vacate the premises by March 3.

In addition, she owed $309 in costs, disbursements and prevailing party fees along with attorney fees to McNamee.

Following Spencer’s eviction, the situation at the property has “calmed down” from the perspective of the police and the city.

Following a rash of 9-1-1 calls to the property, police had served McNamee with a nuisance abatement order on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

McNamee’s attorney contacted Sandy/Estacada Police Chief Kim Yamashita to let her know that efforts were being made to evict Spencer.

Yamashita agreed to hold off proceedings pending Spencer’s eviction.

In a phone interview on May 29, Yamashita said police calls stemming from the property have “drastically slowed down” since Spencer vacated the premises.

“As long as it stays quiet, we won’t be taking any further (police) action,” Yamashita said.

Ron Smith, code enforcement officer for the city of Estacada, said he hadn’t received any complaints from the property since Spencer’s departure.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: R. EVERETT MEADOWS, AN ATTORNEY WITH WILES LAW GROUP, LLC - This photo was used as evidence that the premises were uninhabitable in Spencer's suit against McNamee. It shows the area beneath the kitchen sink in the main house. There was no kitchen in Spencers unit, so she would have had to use this one. This photo was taken on Jan. 10.Despite Spencer’s eviction, her countersuit against McNamee survived and went to arbitration. A hearing was held May 7.

The arbitrator’s findings

“There is no doubt in my mind but what the premises, at all times material, were uninhabitable. In making this finding, I need not even consider the allegations regarding security, smoke alarms, lack of heat, or questionable access to proper bathroom accommodations. The broken windows, open electrical circuitry, mold and general filth demonstrated by the photographs (provided as proof by Spencer’s attorney) allow room for no other conclusion,” attorney Tom Kranovich, who served as arbitrator, wrote in his opinion.

“If rent is charged, habitability compliance is a must. It is not a defense to the habitability requirements of the Landlord Tenant Act that people are willing, or even grateful, to live in circumstances such as those demonstrated by the evidence before me,” Kranovich continued. “Neither is it a defense, regardless of well-meaning intentions, that facilities such as these provide shelter for people who might otherwise be sleeping on the streets.”

Kranovich found for Spencer in the amount of $1,400 representing four months’ rent at $350 a month in addition to $479 for the prevailing party fee, filing and trial fee as well as attorney fees.

“I plan to give the money to (Bradley Mitchell), Punki’s maintenance man. I know he will use it to make much-needed repairs to the house. Cause no one, not even Punki, should live that way,” Spencer wrote in an email.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: R. EVERETT MEADOWS, AN ATTORNEY WITH WILES LAW GROUP, LLC - This Jan. 10 photo of a bathroom in the main house also was used as proof of the premises being uninhabitable in Spencer's countersuit against McNamee.After the final arbitration award is filed in court, McNamee will have 20 days to appeal the arbitrator’s decision.

Calls to McNamee were not answered, and her attorney, Arthur Stangell, declined to comment.

Benjamin Ybarra, Spencer’s attorney, referred to the matter of the premises being uninhabitable as a “slam dunk,” “clear cut” case.

Ybarra said that if opposing counsel doesn’t appeal, they will attempt to collect judgment against McNamee toward the end of June.

He added it is possible that neither party will be able to collect judgment from the other, as Stangell informed him that McNamee is considering bankruptcy and Spencer’s only income is derived from Social Security insurance.

*Note: Two Estacada News articles were referenced as proof in the countersuit against McNamee: the Dec. 26, 2013, article “Sanctuary or Slum?” and “Living conditions at McNamee property headed to court,” published Feb. 20, 2014.



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