Charles “Andy” Kaufman, 57, has lived on his 2.5-acre place on 337th Street in southeast Greene County since 1989, when he started renting the ground from his aunt and uncle. He bought the property from them in 1998 for $18,000 and raised his two now-adult sons there.
Andy was evicted from his property Wednesday. It was the last act in a two-year process through which a Jefferson woman bought the land for $1,262, the price of the lien the Xenia Rural Water District had put on the property.
The sequence of events leading to the eviction is a little fuzzy in Andy’s telling, but the records clearly show that LeeAnna Ausberger of Jefferson acquired the deed to the property Sept. 1, 2021, and Greene County District Court Judge Christopher C. Polking issued an order for “forcible entry and detainer” June 20, 2022, and gave Kaufman until July 20 to clear out.
“I’m not able to work anymore,” Andy said a week before the deadline. “They say I got congestive heart disease. My heart’s only working at 22%. And they’re throwing me out of my home. I was in the hospital five months ago because my kidneys and liver shut down, and three days after I get out of the hospital, they give me an eviction notice to get out of my home that I’ve been in for 35 years.”
His March hospitalization was not his first. Ill health forced Andy onto disability a few years ago, and he was hospitalized for more than eight weeks in January and February of 2021 with COVID-19 and then spent a few more weeks in a nursing home, learning to swallow again after his ventilation and trying to regain some strength.
“I’ve been struggling ever since, just recovering from the COVID,” he said. “I had an operation because I couldn’t swallow, and I can’t taste anymore or smell. I’m one of the people who has long-term after effects. My brain don’t work like it used to. I think — I don’t know this — but when my blood oxygen level was so low that it hurt my brain or something because things that I used to be able to do I have a real hard time doing now. I was never the smartest person in the world, but now just simple things I really struggle to get done, like making out my bills and taking care of my mail, things that I should be able to do. If my son comes down and writes my checks for me to pay my bills, it takes him five or 10 minutes, and he’s got them all done. It would take me half a day to do it. It’s the same bills month after month. You’d think I’d know this, but I just struggle with doing things like that.”
Andy described being bounced between social services offices in Greene and Dallas counties and leaving voice mails that were never returned and seeking but not finding legal aid.
“I have a social worker,” Andy said. “I was supposed to be getting somebody to come into my home to help me twice a week, but I haven’t had that for a very, very long time because they don’t have enough people. I was begging my social worker to change my program and get me some more help, but they let me down.”
He thought he was square with his taxes and utilities, he said, including Xenia, who shut off the water to his house a few years ago but were still charging him rent for the water meter that he was not using.
“If I’d have known about this, I would have paid it,” he said. “I pay my bills. I have a steady income. I could have paid this if I’d have know about it or they’d given me a heads up. They said they sent me a registered letter, but I was recovering from COVID. I never got it. They said it was in the post office, and they left a little thing in the mailbox. But I can’t deal with my mail anymore. I have a whole stack of it. But the judge wouldn’t listen to me, and nobody helps me with it. I try to do the best I can. I pay my bills. It wasn’t from back-due taxes. It was from a lien that Xenia water put against my house is where it all started from. They told me when I got on disability that I had to pay taxes one more year, and I did that. The following year, Xenia put a lien against my house for $1,300. That ballooned into $3,000 or something. We filled out a paperwork, and I thought we had it all taken care of and that was that until I got out of the hospital five months ago, and three days after I get out of the hospital, they give me an eviction notice.”
It was all a simple misunderstanding that Andy thought would be sorted out in time if he just got a little help with the paperwork. He thought his brain fog from the long COVID might entitle him to some help with the processes and procedures. Ausberger was represented in the legal proceedings by Jonathan Law with the Jefferson law firm of Mumma and Pedersen.
“If I wasn’t disabled and I didn’t have the brain injury that I have and the virus, it would have been my fault, but I had people that was supposed to have my back and be helping me stay in my home, and they did not do it. If Greene County sent me to Dallas County for help because Adel is closer than Carroll, and Dallas County don’t want me, so I bounce back and forth and never got the help I was supposed to have. I’m not saying it’s all their fault, but I thought when I got on the disability, I thought their job was to help me stay in my house. That didn’t happen.”
It is not easy for a proud man and hard-working to ask for help. It is not easy for an honest man patiently to endure what seems like the unjust seizure of his home by means of legal chicanery.
“I fell through the cracks somehow,” he said. “That’s what I’m upset about. I’m not upset with the people who bought the place because they didn’t do anything wrong just like I didn’t do anything wrong. They could have sold me the place back. They said they bought it for an investment. I offered them $1,000 more than they paid for it, and they didn’t want any part of it. They say they’re going to sell it to one of my neighbors, which I have a good idea who it is, but I’m not going to say.”
Maybe Andy, a former Iowa Army National Guardsman, was wrong to look for help from or to put his trust in the government in Greene County, where the Libertarian spirit animates the laws and self-seeking is the rule.
“Somebody should have helped me,” he said. “I truly believe that. I kept thinking that somebody is going to come and help me. I called legal aid. I kept thinking that somebody will see this isn’t right and help me out here. They stopped the whole world because of this epidemic, and I’m a victim of it, too, and I can’t get nothing. I can’t get nothing. I thought it would all come around in the wash, and they would see that I was right, you know, because I am right. They said something about a paper wasn’t filled out, and me and my social worker went up there and filled out a paper that nobody ever told me about, so I thought it was all taken care of. Until they give me an eviction notice. I’ll never understand, I guess. I’m too stupid or too far gone or too old or something.”
Andy fell silent and gazed into the middle distance for a while, perhaps pondering the Bible verse from the book of James 2:6, “But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?” At length he continued.
“I could understand them taking rental property but to take a man’s home from him, the only places he knows his whole life, it’s so wrong. I can’t even wrap my mind around it. Who does that to make $1,000 or whatever they’re going to make?”
Andy never had a lot of schooling or a high net worth, and now he has lost his humble home. His friends from church are looking into getting him situated in an apartment in town, but he does not much relish the prospect.
“My grandpa told me one time to be adaptable to change, but I didn’t take his advice, and I’m not very good at that,” he said, his voice quavering. “I’ve been trying to hold it together pretty good, but I’m really struggling here, you know. It’s been my home since 1989. I’ve raised my boys here. My whole life has been here, my adult life since I was 26 years old. It’s just not right. I mean, it ain’t much, but it’s mine. It was mine. And it’s really upsetting. I feel it’s a bad law. I feel they’re putting old people out into the streets. They let me fall through the cracks.”
Andy is no stranger to trouble. He lost his beloved 4-year-old grandson in a house fire just up the road from his place on Dec. 8, 2016. He said that he “just kind of fell apart after that. I’ve never been the same ever since that happened and never will be.” Deputies had to tackle and handcuff Andy to prevent his entering the burning house and very likely perishing along with his grandson. He is no stranger to loss and injustice but also to faith and perseverance.