Fernando Casamor is a retired electrician who fell off a ladder five years ago and has since been diagnosed with a brain tumor in his head and a degenerated lumbar spine, but his problems really got bad after Roselle Mayor Donald Shaw bought the property where the man has lived for the past 24 years.
While he has had some ups and downs, Casamor lived in the same apartment since 1998, his rent climbing to $900 a month until he became the victim of an illegal eviction attempt, which was dismissed by the Union County Superior Court in March.
Shaw and his wife, former Roselle Councilwoman Kimberly Sharrock-Shaw, doubled Casamor’s rent to $1800, according to the tenant, who survived an eviction attempted while New Jersey’s eviction moratorium was still in effect.
New Jersey’s eviction moratorium has sunset but Union County Emergency Rental Assistance Program could allow tenants to receive up to 12 months of assistance for unpaid back rent/utility bills and three months of forthcoming assistance.
Shaw is not willing to work it out, so Casamor could wind up on the streets.
Casamor has been surviving on an income of just $1200 per month and his new landlord has tried a number of ways to get him to vacate his apartment. It is not clear that Shaw’s methods are at all legal.
The Shaws sent a letter that told Casamor to ‘take his belongings and get out’ on April 12, 2021. Two other tenants who lived there at the time got similar letters and while they—a family of four and a single woman—have left, Casamor would likely be homeless if Shaw forces him onto the streets.
“They told me I have until June 12, 2021, to get out,” said Casamor.
“Take all your personal belongings, your trash, and your debris, etc. by no later than 5 p.m. on June 12, 2021,” said a letter signed by Kimberly Sharrock-Shaw.
At that time, the eviction moratorium that Gov. Phil Murphy put into place in March 2020, had barred landlords from removing tenants from their homes.
It is illegal for a New Jersey landlord to raise rent in retaliation for a tenant exercising his/her tenant rights, but Casamor received a notice that his rent would double only after Shaw failed in a previous illegal attempt to evict him.
In September 2021, they sent a letter saying the rent would increase from $900 to $1800 per month.
Most New Jersey landlords need to have “good cause” to evict a tenant, meaning they must meet at least one of 17 reasons in order to start eviction proceedings, with some exceptions.
The most common reason is a tenant missing a rent payment but Casamor’s doubled rent to $1800, according to documents filed with the court by Shaw.
That is more than the tenant’s $1200 monthly income, but it also appears to be an act of retaliation, which is prohibited in this state.
New Jersey residents with household income below 120% of the county’s area median income are permanently protected from eviction or removal at any time for nonpayment of rent, habitual late payment of rent, or failure to accept a rent increase that accrued from March 1, 2020, to August 31, 2021.
Casamor and Shaw will have a chance to try their case before the county’s Landlord/Tenant Section of the state Superior Court’s Special Civil Part, on Thursday, June 30 at 1:30 p.m. over ZOOM.
You can watch the courtroom drama online at https://tinyurl.com/35whu37x using Meeting ID: 1602140151 and Password: 492371
In addition to showing that the Shaw family violated New Jersey law since becoming landlords, Casamor may have had other rights violated.
In New Jersey, the necessary notification to current tenants when an owner is planning to sell real estate needs to give them not less than 60 days to leave the property.
Casamor says that Shaw never gave him a legitimate notification prior to the sale.
“If you purchase a home and you are going to use it as a primary residence, you have to have the seller notify the tenants,” said Casamor.
During the 24 years that Casamor has lived there, his rent increased from $750 to $900 a month. He made an $1125 security deposit.
Casamor says he sleeps 16 hours a day due to headaches that resulted from a tumor discovered when he was getting treatment for an accident at work five years ago, in which he suffered skull and spine fractures.
“I have no family, I have nobody to help me,” said Casamor. “Before I got disabled five years ago, I was making almost $80,000 a year.”
Casamor went to do a job in Indiana at a company where they make water filters, but while he was installing wiring at the chemical plant, he fell off a 30-foot ladder.
“I cracked my head and broke my back,” said Casamor. “I was bedridden for almost two years and I guess I just gave up on everything after that. I couldn’t get past being disabled, I couldn’t accept it and now I just go day to day whatever happens.”
On legal documents filed by Kimberly Sharrock-Shaw, she declares that her mailing address is 518 Brooklawn Ave, Roselle, NJ 07203.
Neither Donald Shaw nor Kimberly Sharrock-Shaw responded to questions about their effort to drive their disabled tenant into homelessness, just as they ducked repeated inquiries since NJTODAY documented the sale of their former residence in Roselle and the purchase of the 4-family home in Elizabeth.
The mayor’s wife is a former Fourth Ward councilwoman who is employed as an English teacher at Rahway High School, where she earned $86,652 last year.
In addition to his municipal salary, Mayor Shaw is paid $80,580 for a low-show job at the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation, which was given to him by political bosses as an incentive to operate in the interests of power brokers and party leaders.
Donald Shaw and Kimberly Sharrock-Shaw both signed a mortgage agreement that appears to require them to make the Elizabeth house their primary residence, which would make Donald Shaw ineligible to remain as mayor.