Posted on May 18, 2011

Landlords Say Newark Man Refuses to Pay Rent, Trashes Apartments, Then Ties Them Up in Court

Barry Carter, Star-Ledger (Newark), May 15, 2011


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.”


“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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


“It was just a mess,” said Deletrice Massey, talking about how she inherited Newton and his wife as tenants in July 1994. “He took me through a lot.”

Newton was already a tenant in the rental property she bought in 1994 across the street from her home on Montrose Terrace in Irvington. {snip}

Several days later [after Newton moved out in May 1995], on June 4, her house caught fire.

Superior Court records show Newton’s wife, who was Andrea Rutty at the time (she is now known as Andrea Newton), was charged with criminal mischief in connection with the fire.

Rutty told the court on April 17, 1997, that she was smoking a cigarette and dropped it on the back porch where there were papers and boxes. But according to the report from the Irvington Fire Department, a “poured accelerant” helped cause a deep burn between floorboards on the porch.

In addition to the criminal mischief charge, both Newtons were charged with endangering the welfare of their 2-year-old son, identified as “QR.” {snip}

As part of the plea bargain, Rutty was sentenced to three years in prison for endangering the welfare of a child and criminal mischief. She served one year and was released in December 1998, according to the state Department of Corrections.

The deal also stipulated that child endangerment charges against Mark Newton would be dismissed at sentencing.


And he is in court a lot. Consider this snippet of his schedule:

Newton was in Superior Court March 7 defending himself against a terroristic-threat complaint brought by a neighbor. The proceedings were adjourned because Newton requested additional discovery. He was back two days later, this time with Wells Fargo. Then, on March 11, he was in municipal court for a harassment charge he filed against the neighbor who had accused him of making a terroristic threat.

He also has four civil lawsuits in play–three in Superior Court and one in chancery court, records show. A recent case in which PSE&G wanted to cut off his service was dismissed so the issue of his not paying a $2,263.30 bill could be taken up with the state Board of Public Utilities.



Eddie Young, who owns an insurance agency in Newark, tried to fight back when his problems with Newton began in August 1999. {snip}

After Newton moved into Young’s four-family Newark apartment building at 77-79 Smith St., Young said Newton redefined the art of not paying rent. Young said he filed to evict in October 1999 and found himself in Newton’s legal web for more than three years.


But most landlords interviewed for this story–including Young–kept copies of their records. Letters from Newton to Young show he was complaining that his place was not fit to be lived in and needed repairs. After several months, Young said, Newton began destroying the unit, breaking windows, chiseling a hole in the bathroom floor, damaging the toilet and cutting the gas line to the stove.


Young said he received less than half the rent he was due and was in court for nearly two years. His loss, however, was far greater, he said, because he coughed up a combined $60,000 for three lawyers–two for landlord-tenant court and one for an assault complaint when he alleged Newton attacked him during an inspection of his apartment.


A settlement was reached for Newton to move out on Sept. 18, 2000, but Newton filed a motion to have the agreement dismissed. According to court documents supplied by Young, Newton contended Young had reneged on a promise to give him a positive reference for another landlord. But the court records show the tactics went nowhere, though they did consume several months of court time.

“I would die and go to hell before I give a good reference to him,” Young said he told Judge Fast back then. {snip}

Newton was evicted in January 2001, according to court papers supplied by Young, but the legal battles did not end there. Young was trying to get back rent, and Newton filed a lawsuit against Young, Young’s wife and the insurance agency, claiming they rented him a shoddy apartment and wouldn’t repair it. Young eventually dropped his suit and, he says, Newton didn’t get damages either.



Brian Mizell said he found out about Newton too late: {snip}

Mizell alleged Newton changed locks, wrecked the place–putting holes in the wall and breaking windows–and then called the city’s code enforcement office. He also alleged Newton poured water into the oil tank for the boiler, caused flooding by clogging up the toilet with rags, and removed washers from pipes underneath the sink to create more leaks. Mizell found himself in municipal court, then in Superior Court trying to evict Newton. He wound up in appellate court, too.


“According to the record provided to us, they (the Newtons) have lived in the apartment since 2005 without paying rent,” Reisner [Judge Susan L. Reisner] said. “Further, in a written opinion dated Nov. 19, 2008, Judge Rosenberg determined, after an evidentiary hearing, that the Newtons were responsible for the uninhabitable conditions of the apartment.”

When Newton vacated 77 St. Paul Ave., he and his family moved across the street to the home now owned by the bank at 80 St. Paul Ave.

The bank contends in court records that Newton has not paid rent since July 2009. His defense, court records show, is that the house is defective, uninhabitable. But this time the neighbors are opposing him, too.


Andy and Kiewanda Shabazz-Henry make no apologies for their antagonism toward the Newtons, whom they call squatters. {snip}

The Shabazz-Henrys have complained to anybody and everybody who’d listen–the Newark Police Department, Newark City Hall, West Ward Councilman Ronald Rice Jr., PSE&G, Newark’s municipal court. They contend the Newtons have no right to be there.


It comes at a cost for the Shabazz-Henry family. Newton, they said, has filed harassment charges, causing the Shabazz-Henrys to miss work and appear in court 15 times since 2008.

In turn, the Shabazz-Henrys have filed counter claims. The complaints from both sides get dismissed as frivolous, according to the Shabazz-Henry family. Since May 2010, records show, Newark police have answered nearly 64 calls of service to both houses. Rice said residents fear the same retaliation the Shabazz-Henrys are experiencing and they are concerned about the look of the home. Black plastic bags cover the front windows. Rice and the Shabazz-Henrys say wooden boards are nailed on side windows and surveillance cameras monitor the front porch.


Newton also wrote that he has withheld rent because he does not know whom to pay. {snip}

The Shabazz-Henrys have been arrested on allegations from Newton’s son, Qadir, that the married couple broke into the Newtons’ home in June 2010.


Newton, meanwhile, was arrested on allegations he made a terroristic threat against Kiewanda Shabazz-Henry on Mother’s Day last year and spent three months in jail. {snip}


In recent weeks, Newton added a new case to his files. On April 7, he was in chancery court seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the publication of this story.

The motion was denied.