U.S. Marshals evicted an elderly woman yesterday morning from her apartment at the Watergate West, placing an upright piano, chairs, lamps, suitcases, a mattress and her other belongings on the sidewalk in front of the building's entrance.
Edith Berman, who said she is more than 80 years old, owes the Watergate West, a cooperative that is part of the Watergate complex, about $2,000 in payments that she withheld beginning in 1979, according to Frederic Schwartz, attorney for the Watergate West and one of the co-op's residents.
Schwartz said that Berman owns the apartment, but owes $1,500 for air conditioning charges not paid since 1979, and several hundred dollars that she has withheld at various times from her $400 monthly assessment. He said that her one-bedroom apartment is worth about $100,000.
"It appeared that she could pay it but chose not to," said Schwartz, who noted that eviction procedures were officially begun in April 1984. "We took every conceivable step at every possible opportunity to try and get her to pay."
"It's a disgrace -- it's a disgrace to Washington and it's a disgrace to this hotel," said Berman, who claimed that she is current in her payments. "I've lived here 16 years, and I have no trouble with people. They have no complaint against me."
Berman, who said she is originally from Pittsburgh and has lived in Washington for 40 years, said that her furnishings are worth $15,000.
U.S. Marshals carried out 29 evictions including Berman's yesterday. This is not the first eviction at the Watergate, according to Ron Hein, chief deputy U.S. marshal. Yesterday's actions were part of a round of increased numbers of daily evictions begun Monday.
The Watergate intends to sell Berman's apartment at auction, keep what is owed to the cooperative, and give her the remainder of the proceeds, according to Schwartz. "It's like she's being put on the street with $80-$90,000," he said.
Several hours after the eviction, Berman, a small brownish-haired woman, stood in the lobby of the co-op, dressed in a red housecoat and slippers, leaning on a metal cane. She said that her nearest relative lives in Pittsburgh, that she does not have many friends in Washington, and that she did not know where she would sleep last night or where she will go.
"If necessary, I will stay right there," she said pointing to the doorstep of the building. "If they don't like it they can lump it."
City officials said Berman has not requested emergency housing. Schwartz said that the Watergate will probably let her sleep in the lobby of the co-op.
Berman said that she plans to hire a lawyer.
A city truck arrived to take Berman's belongings to a city-owned storage facility, but she would not allow the truck to be loaded. Berman said that she would call a private moving and storage firm to remove and store her belongings, which were guarded by Watergate employes, who covered the items with a protective tarp.
"That's for people who have no money," she said, referring to the city-owned moving truck.