It took a deadly fire that killed one person and destroyed two homes for the city of Fresno to become involved with a mobile home park whose license to operate had been suspended by the state three months prior.
Now the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which has enforcement jurisdiction over Fresno mobile home parks, and the city of Fresno are discussing how to bring the Trails End Mobile Home Park up to code or close it down.
Ronald Richardson, 56, of Fresno died and another person was transported to a hospital due to the fire that broke out at the Trails End Mobile Home Park the night of April 29, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office and Fresno Fire Department. The Fresno Fire Department determined that a generator that was being fueled while running was the cause of the fire, according to the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
Trails End, a 2.3-acre property with 60 spaces for mobile homes, is still in operation despite the suspended license, while the city of Fresno, the county and Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) sort out which entity can legally abate or close down the park.
According to HCD Codes and Standards Deputy Director Kyle Krause, authorities suspended Trails End’s permit to operate in January because of major habitability issues dating back to July 2020 which the mobile home operators failed to address, months after the deadline.
Krause said that following the deadly fire on April 29, HCD began communicating with the city of Fresno about the property whose conditions continue to pose a threat to residents.
A spokesperson said city officials were completely unaware of the issue until the April 29 fire. Under California mobile home laws, all Fresno mobile home parks are overseen by HCD, not the city.
“Code Enforcement had no knowledge of problems at the park going back at least two years,” City Attorney Doug Sloan wrote in an email to The Bee. “Nothing.”
Krause said while the HCD was aware for months of fire hazards among other violations, state officials can do nothing.
“HCD does not have the authority to close a mobile home park, only the city can take that action,” Krause said. “Often this happens where (the cities) are just not fully aware of their statutory authority and their obligation under the law to do so.”
Trails End Mobile Home Park, the only of the 36 active mobile home parks in Fresno that is under suspension, was first built in 1970. It has been owned by trustee Joan Kavorkian since 2010. The permit required for the park’s operation was suspended in January “due to violations that went uncorrected” for at least six months, Krause said.
Conditions at Trails End Mobile Home Park
HCD, which serves as the “code enforcement of mobile home parks,” was notified in July 2020 of a complaint at the park, according to Krause. Some of the violations found during an initial inspection included piles of trash outside homes, old appliances strewn in one lot and a hose draining water from a shower and sink into a roadway.
“Trash and combustibles was one of the major violations,” Krause said.
HCD gave the owners a 60-day notice to correct the violations. The agency returned to the property for reinspections in September, October, November and January, issuing notices each time, but nothing changed.
The state suspended the Trails End permit to operate on Jan. 22, Krause said.
“When a park is suspended or their permit to operate is suspended under law, under the health and safety code, they’re not legally permitted to charge rent or to collect rent, but there is no additional authority for HCD to close down the park and evict residents,” Krause said.
Tenants were notified they were no longer required to pay rent at the trailer park until the issues were resolved. Krause said that usually, nonpayment from tenants motivates landlords to correct issues as quickly as possible.
“Certainly, by the time we suspend their permits,” Krause said, “they know we’re serious.”
However, at Trails End, conditions did not improve after January. Krause said the HCD conducted several more site visits, and still nothing has been corrected.
Since the fire, Krause said HCD ordered the owners to clean up the debris and place a perimeter fence around the burned homes.
The Bee submitted a public records request to HCD for all communication and documented activity at Trails End Mobile Home Park since January 2019.
Who is responsible for shutting down Trails End?
While Trails End falls under HCD’s enforcement jurisdiction, Krause said HCD can only suspend permits to operate; HCD cannot shut down a park because that would require civil action from the city or county the mobile home park falls within.
According to Krause and a statement from Fresno County, Fresno County Code Enforcement contacted HCD about the mobile home park to confirm that it was within Fresno city limits.
Yet according to Sloan, Fresno County officials never notified the city of their communication with the HCD. And HCD never contacted the city about Trails End directly, until after the fire.
On why the city was never notified about the suspended permit in January, Alicia Murillo, communications analyst with HCD said in an email that “The county reached out to HCD, and we responded to their inquiries.”
“HCD did not reach out to the County to notify them, the county reached out to HCD directly and we answered their questions,” Murillo explained. “The park is under the jurisdiction of the state; local agencies are not typically notified of actions against the park until it involves land use.”
Sontaya Rose, Fresno city communications director, said the city has had “no contact with anybody relating to the Trails End because it is not a place where we can enforce, so we had no knowledge of them not having a permit because it’s not really in our realm.”
According to Sloan, the city could take steps toward an abatement process. However, because the city isn’t the agency that oversees enforcement, that process hasn’t been on the table.
“Since HCD has exclusive code enforcement jurisdiction, we necessarily must rely on the state to raise an issue. That has not occurred, at least in my 15 years with the City, as far as I know,” Sloan stated.
Both Rose and Krause explained that if the city of Fresno were to move Trails End under its enforcement, then all mobile home parks in the city would have to move under the city’s enforcement as well, according to the Mobile Homes Act.
What’s next for Trails End?
HCD and city officials are in the process of setting up meetings to discuss a course of action for Trails End Mobile Home Park.
“We will be meeting with HCD to discuss moving forward,” Sloan wrote. “Of course we are concerned and want to see the conditions improved.”
It was unclear Thursday what moving forward would look like.
While the situation is a first in Fresno, according to Rose, there is an upward trend across the state of mobile home parks falling into disrepair, Krause said, adding that he cannot speculate on why, but suspects COVID-19 is a factor.
“We generally have approximately 36 to 40 suspended permits in any given year,” Krause said. “We’re now upward of over 50, probably getting close to over 60 to 65.”