‘Nightmare’ almost over for McHenry landlord

'Sovereign citizen' has until 9 a.m. Friday to vacate home

McHENRY – The nightmare that has consumed Anja Hertel’s life for the past six months is almost over.

Her tenant, 73-year-old Marion Berntsen, has until 9 a.m. Friday to move out of Hertel’s McHenry home where she has been renting a room for the past six months.

Hertel filed a petition to evict Berntsen after Berntsen called the police more than 10 times, accused Hertel of stealing her belongings and filed an order of protection as well as a civil lawsuit claiming $15,000 in damages for stolen items.

Berntsen removed most of her belongings from the home Thursday, but she returned later that afternoon, Hertel said.

“I don’t know if she’s waiting for the sheriff’s department to come and kick her out or if she’s waiting for someone to pick her up,” Hertel said. “The last six months have been nerve-racking to say the least. Right now, I’m feeling relieved that the sheriff[’s office] will be there if I need them. It’s been exhausting and very expensive.”

In addition to a retainer fee of $4,000 for an attorney, Hertel also has racked up other costs, missing work to attend court hearings, paying police fees and covering damage to the rented room and her driveway, she said. Berntsen also has not paid the last three months worth of rent, a total of $1,500.

“It’s endless,” she said, adding that the civil lawsuit is still making its way through the court process.

Berntsen is seeking $15,000 in damages, for personal property that Berntsen says Hertel stole, including love letters from her deceased husband, $70 worth of garbanzo beans and other canned goods, toiletries, utensils, 10 boxes of VHS tapes, pillows and blankets and other items totaling $3,396. Hertel denies all those claims.

The case is scheduled for a March 6 status update.

The lawsuit is a tactic Berntsen has used multiple times in Illinois and Wisconsin and is consistent with the behavior of a sovereign citizen, said Steve Olson, police chief in Fontana, Wis., where Berntsen has a warrant for her arrest and a lengthy rap sheet of similar frivolous lawsuits and traffic violations.

The FBI considers sovereign citizens anti-government individuals who don’t believe that federal, state and local laws apply to them. Viewed as “extremists,” sovereign citizens create an influx of documents that clog the courts and other government agencies, according to a 2011 report by the FBI.