A trailer park founded in 2009 by idealistic artists on the Williamsburg-Bushwick border in Brooklyn finds itself on the move again.
In February 2010, the trailer park was forced out of a warehouse zoned for commercial use at 304 Meserole Street by the New York Fire Department. With the consent of the warehouse’s owner, however, the trailer park was allowed to relocate to the overgrown lot behind the building, where it remained for over a year.
But the warehouse’s owner, it turns out, does not control the lot. And now the 25 residents of the trailer park say they were evicted — illegally this time — from the 4,400-square-foot lot by the cement company that leases the land.
On March 13, the company, Kings Building Supply, towed the 23 trailers around the corner to Johnson Avenue using forklifts and front-end loaders and left them in the street. Members of the New York City Police Department were present at the scene, the founders of the trailer park say.
Residents said that they were given no notice of an eviction and that 10 of the trailers were damaged beyond repair during the removal process.
Hayden Cummings, 28, one of the collective’s founders, said that employees of Kings Building Supply had given them permission to use the site. “They let us move our campers through their property,” he said, adding that the company had sold them gravel and helped them spread it on the unpaved lot.
“We were friendly with them,” he said. “They knew we were living there.”
But Michael Solomon, the chief financial officer of Kings Building Supply, said he did not learn of the trailer park’s existence until recently. He contends that the group was trespassing.
“The police showed up over a period of 10 days in March, and no one on the property was able to provide proof that they had a legal right to be there,” Mr. Solomon said.
He rejected the claim that the trailers were damaged during the eviction. “They were already falling apart,” he said. “We actually saved those guys a lot of money by moving the trailers ourselves.”
The collective, formally known as the Bushwick Project for the Arts, is filing a civil lawsuit against Kings Building Supply and Mr. Solomon, accusing them of ignoring a cease-and-desist letter and refusing to follow formal eviction proceedings.
The trailer park was first conceived in the summer of 2009, when Mr. Cummings began rounding up old travel campers and recreational vehicles he had found through Craigslist. He recruited artists interested in creating a collaborative live-work space, and that fall they signed a lease for the 6,500-square-foot warehouse in a former nut-roasting factory at 304 Meserole Street.
In the warehouse, the members, who ranged in age from 21 to 40, built a number of communal spaces, including a kitchen, wood shop, art gallery, recording studio and an aquaponic vegetable garden housed in a silver Airstream trailer.
Mr. Cummings equipped the trailers with wireless Internet, smoke detectors and running water, and he collected $500 to $650 in rent per month from each resident for full access to the facilities, which included four indoor toilets and hot showers.
When the trailers were moved outside in February 2010, members installed solar panels on their roofs. Events like figure drawing classes and free movie screenings took place regularly. Three chickens and a stray dog named Shambles roamed the lot.
“Time and again people told me, ‘This is the greatest place I’ve ever lived,’ ” Mr. Cummings said. “Everybody was finding each other jobs, or spotting people if they were short on rent. It was really working.”
The current dispute began when surveyors for New York & Atlantic Railway, a private company that provides freight services for the Long Island Rail Road, came to Kings Building Supply in January.
Kings Building Supply occupies what was formerly Long Island Rail Road’s Bushwick Branch terminal, property it leases from New York & Atlantic. Near the back of the property, surveyors noticed 23 trailers sandwiched between a building and a 14-foot-high wall of stacked bricks unloaded from railroad cars.
“We thought, ‘What are all these trailers doing on L.I.R.R. property?’ ” said Paul Victor, the president of New York & Atlantic. “We went back to Kings Materials and said this is not consistent with the terms of our lease, and that these people have to go.”
In a statement, Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said that Mr. Solomon “was warned by the Buildings Department that he faced fines if he didn’t get the trespassers off the property, and that his lease with the L.I.R.R. would not be renewed if he failed to act.”
On March 3, Mr. Browne said, police accompanied Mr. Solomon to the property and issued eight summonses for trespassing, and returned on March 5 to issue nine more. Four of the 17 people who were summonsed were arrested for outstanding warrants.
“On both days, the N.Y.P.D. offered free shelter and transportation to shelters for the trespassers,” Mr. Browne said. “All declined and left the area voluntarily.”
Yet several inhabitants remained at the site, partly to prevent their belongings from being stolen, Mr. Cummings said.
At 7 a.m. March 13, a Sunday, executives from Kings Building Supply and several police officers arrived to remove the trailers from the property.
According to Joe Diamond, a founder of the collective, Mr. Solomon and members of the police disregarded documentation that the campers had resided on the property for more than 30 days, entitling them to a formal notice of eviction.
“When I handed Mr. Solomon a cease-and-desist letter from our lawyer, he ripped it in half and said, ‘Give that to your lawyer,’ ” Mr. Diamond said. He said the episode was captured on video.
The police did not respond to requests for comment about the eviction itself. But Martin Needelman, chief counsel of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, who has consulted the residents, said that the eviction might have constituted an “illegal lockout.”
“If the residents were there for 30 days with the knowledge of the property owners, then they are required to go to court before an eviction takes place,” Mr. Needelman said.
Last Friday, Mr. Cummings and Mr. Diamond were busy moving the unregistered trailers off the street — to several locations in Brooklyn — to prevent them from being impounded. They said they hoped they could persuade Kings Building Supply and New York & Atlantic to do something positive with their unused land.
“All we want to do,” Mr. Cummings said, “is to assume liability and pay rent for that small strip of land, so we can have our community back.”