Trash and debris litter the front porch of a large home May 6 at 17 Lower St. in Minot. The tenant moved out Saturday and the owner, Ann Payne of Camden, is left to clean up the property after seven months of trying to evict the occupant. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

For Ann Payson, June 1 will always be a day of liberation. 

This is the date that her troublesome tenant finally moved out of her house in Minot after months of legal maneuvering and skipped rent payments. 

It’s liberating to have that tenant gone sure enough, but Ann is not celebrating. There will be no sparklers or fireworks or flags flown in celebration. That tenant might be gone, but now, for 75-year-old Ann, the real work has just begun.

The tenant departed Saturday. Soon after, Ann’s husband drove from their home in Camden to Minot to assess the property.

What he found was chaos. 

Excrement in every room of the house, from three dogs and who knows how many cats. Filthy toilets, dirty dishes and soiled clothing strewn all over the place. Trash of all varieties everywhere he looked, to the point that it was near impossible to assess the damage throughout the house. 


And it stank, Ann said, “to high heaven.” 

“You couldn’t even walk into any of the rooms,” she said. “It was so sickening that the second he got outside, my husband stripped his clothes off and washed himself off.” 

What remains at her house in Minot is pure squalor, Ann said, and filth from one end to another. There were gin bottles and beer cans all over the place, along with spent marijuana cigarettes strewn everywhere. There were more than 20 empty propane tanks used for God knows what. 

The house Ann liked to keep so neat was in utter ruin and she predicted that it will take them “months and months” to make it presentable again — if that is at all possible. 

And they have to get to it right away, Ann added, because town officials have warned her that they will be penalized if they don’t. 

“They were going to fine us for the mess she left all over the yard,” Ann said. “They couldn’t force her to clean up, but they were going to give us a fine?”


According to a town official, they received several reports from neighbors of so much “trash and refuse piled around the property” that it was considered a health and safety violation. The town then notified the property manager and the owners that failing to clean up the property would result in fines.

Ann gets so flustered talking about all of this that she can barely speak for long moments. So few have been willing to listen to her tale of woe and frustration that when given the chance speak to it, she does so in an explosion of anger and disbelief. 

You can hardly blame her. Ann had been trying to get her tenant out of the house for seven months — seven months during which she and her husband were receiving zero rent while having to pay for things such as furnace work because the tenant let the oil run dry. Earlier in the year, she said, they had to shell out $10,000 for repairs to the septic system after cat litter was flushed down the toilet. 

And through all that, the tenant wouldn’t budge. It got so bad that Ann had to hire a lawyer in hopes of getting that tenant gone. She was told she would be charged $300 for his services, but was charged $1,700 instead, she said.

Ann doesn’t have much good to say about her lawyer, whom she said didn’t even try to get back rent out of the tenant and who didn’t include a provision requiring the tenant to clean her messes. 

She doesn’t have much good to say about housing officials, the legal system or the politicians who wouldn’t even respond to her appeals for help, either. 


Everywhere she sought help, Ann said, she was greeted with shrugs, if she got any response at all. During the long ordeal, sheriff’s officials told her there was nothing they could do: It’s a civil matter, ma’am, not a criminal one. Good luck in court. 

“That’s all anyone says: ‘It’s civil,'” Ann said. “But to me, stealing is stealing and this woman stole from us. She lied to us and now we’re out thousands of dollars.” 

Ann and her husband did try to go through the court system, as it happens, but it wasn’t pretty. The court system mowed them over in haste and ruled in favor of the tenant, allowing the young woman to remain in the house even though she was not paying rent. 

Never mind that the tenant rented rooms to strangers without permission from the owners. Never mind those dogs and cats she was not supposed to have. Just you never mind about the fact that the house was being destroyed by someone who hadn’t paid a dime in rent for half a year. 

In Ann’s bitter opinion, the system is badly broken, and seems designed to coddle liars and cons while actively punishing those who try to play by the rules. 

“I’ve lost all my faith in humanity,” Ann said at the peak of her troubles. “I’m a nurse of 35 years. I volunteer at the soup kitchen; I do everything right. And now you come across somebody like this and you can’t get around them.” 


Ann has since learned that her tenant had received thousands of dollars in state and local aid to help her move into the house last year. The woman also works part time, Ann said, and yet the lawyer she hired did not go after the tenant to pay any of the back rent. 

Others acknowledge the unfairness of it all, but they do so quietly and off the record. What are you doing to do? That’s just how the system works. The system will bend over backward to protect tenants from bad landlords, but it doesn’t do much at all when it’s the other way around. 

As far as Ann is concerned, she and her husband lost a sizable chunk of their savings — money she had hoped to leave to her children — because the system favors sloth and dishonesty over integrity and hard work. 

Is this how the world works now, she wonders? Is this the same country she grew up in? 

“I will never fly another American flag in my life,” Ann said. “I am just disgusted with America right now. … I’m disgusted with the politics of it all.” 

For Ann and her husband, a 77-year-old retired truck driver, this summer will be spent wading into the filth at the Minot home and working to get it clean just so they can assess the damage. 


New paint will be required just about everywhere. Possibly floors and walls, too. They won’t know for sure what they’re up against until they dig through the mounds and discover what lies beneath.

June 1 was liberating in its way, sure, but as it is with war, the real horrors are not realized until the aftermath reveals them. 

And the house that Ann once tried to make so tidy and welcoming in hopes of getting a nice tenant who would appreciate it? That house on its short loop of road that was supposed to provide income to see the couple through their golden years?

Ann can’t WAIT to be rid of it. 

“I’m done with it,” she said. “I’ll get rid of that house as fast as we can sell it. I just can’t stand the idea of going through this again.” 

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