The COVID-19 eviction moratorium allowed five young children to live and suffer in a fly and waste-ridden Manchester apartment longer than they would have otherwise, the landlord said Monday.
Laurie Grassett, whose family owns McLaurin Enterprise, said she had wanted to evict the three tenants, now charged with child endangerment and reckless conduct, for nonpayment of rent.
But the moratorium — which had been in effect for nearly a year before it ended in August — prevented her from going forward, she said.
Had the eviction moratorium not been in place, the landlord and authorities would have discovered the situation sooner, Grassett said. However, no court records are on file that show Grassett or McLaurin actually filed for eviction.
“We wish we could have gotten to them sooner to understand the severity of the situation for those children,” Grassett said.
They were behind paying rent, and every time the landlord tried to enter the apartment, the family resisted, citing concerns about COVID-19, she said.
On Friday, Manchester police overcame objections from one of the adults and entered the apartment, where they found five children between 2 and 6, police said on Monday.
Police found trash covering the floor, flies and bugs crawling on ceilings and walls, apparent feces near a crib and moldy food where children slept.
“From the outside, officers could see a swarm of bugs and flies hovering around the exterior second-floor apartment windows and when they went up to the door they smelled a distinct stench coming from the unit,” police said in a statement.
Police arrested three adult residents on misdemeanor charges of reckless conduct and endangering the welfare of a child:
Alicia Washok, 37, also charged with resisting arrest.
Her husband, Eddie King, 44.
Her mother, Lori Harmon, 62, also charged with resisting arrest.
Police spokesman Heather Hamel said emergency responders took the children to Elliot Hospital. Police contacted the state Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), and the children are now in a safe living situation, Hamel said.
Grassett said the family had been living in the apartment for about 1½ years. King received some assistance through a veterans-relief organization, she said.
“They were hermit crabs. The husband was the only one I ever saw,” said a neighbor who would only give a name of Jimmy. He said King worked at a paving company and constantly worked on his pickup truck. It seemed his wife was responsible for child-rearing duties, he said.
He said the family never allowed the children outside. Once he knocked on the front door to borrow a power tool. King did not open the door fully and passed it through the crack.
Jimmy said he looked inside and saw it was a mess.
“I could tell it was kind of gross. They were embarrassed. It stunk I guess, but Manchester stinks all around,” he said. He said he did not consider contacting state child protection workers.
“I understand it’s hard,” said Jimmy, who has children of his own. “You have to keep up.”
State law requires anyone to report suspected abuse or neglect of children.
According to Manchester police, they became aware of the situation through McLaurin Enterprise. McLaurin called police when the family refused to allow the landlord to enter the property to fix a leak.
Washok also didn’t want to let police in. But when she was talking to them at the door, a child appeared covered in filth and smelling bad, police said.
A Union Leader reporter and photographer visited the address Monday afternoon. The team was met with putrid, sour smells of decay on the second floor.
The first-floor tenant had hung eight strips of fly paper on the hallway ceiling outside her back door.
“It’s about time somebody said something. They’ve been living like that in filth since the day they moved in,” said another neighbor. He said the five children would look out the window every day; like Jimmy, he never saw them outside.
Only the father would leave the apartment to go to work, said the man, who would not give a name but said he worked at a nearby laundromat.
The country had been under a COVID-19 eviction moratorium of one form or another since September 2020. It ended last month, when the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a countrywide eviction moratorium instituted by the Centers for Disease Control.
Evictions are now taking place in New Hampshire courts while the state promotes rental assistance nonstop. As of last month, nearly $40 million in Emergency Rental Assistance Program has been released to help 5,800 households.