What's at stake?
The temporary owner (or receiver) of Trails' End mobile home park is supposed to improve safety for residents. But they're trying to displace renters in the process.
Trails End residents watched this week as a work crew tore down a bedroom and laundry room from a mobile home. It was the first demolition of an unpermitted add-on; at least one more has been torn down.
Two days later, the Trails End community was dealt another blow when a Fresno County Superior Court judge determined that the California Receivership Group, the group in charge of the park, had the right to destroy add-ons to existing structures which did not obtain proper permits and approvals and violate safety codes.
Mark Lamphere, who rents a room in the mobile home that was partially torn down Monday, said he had not received a written notice. He is not sure if his landlord was notified. He had not been aware that the rooms in his rental did not have permits, and was unsure that, as a renter, he would have been able to obtain permits had he tried.
“(I feel) pretty bad, pretty violated,” Lamphere said Monday.
Judge Kristi Culver-Kapetan said on Wednesday that Trails End residents who applied for permits for unpermitted structures by April 22, were allowed 60 days to obtain the permits before work contractors could tear it down. For everyone else – including renters like Lamphere – the structures can be torn down.
Permits not easy to come by
Seventeen residents sought permits by the court’s April 22 deadline, according to California Rural Legal Assistance attorney Mariah Thompson who represents a few individual renters at the mobile home park, as well as the Trails End United for Change group.
However, even those who applied for permits are not guaranteed to receive them in time and fear that parts of their home will be torn down.
Thompson told the judge that some of the 17 permit applicants were renters who were denied permits and whose landlords have not taken any action. To which the judge said, “At least they tried,” and reiterated that the homeowner would still have 60 days to obtain permits.
On April 26, mobile park homeowner Paula Franquez, who has lived at Trails End for 20 years, received a seven-day notice that parts of her unit, including an uncovered washing machine which is outdoors, an enclosed patio and a bedroom were all unpermitted. She was one of the 17 people who applied for permits, but a website malfunction prohibited her from obtaining them online.
Following Wednesday’s hearing, Franquez said she was going to attempt to get the permits in person because she did not want to see parts of her home torn down.
“My blood pressure is through the roof,” Franquez said in Spanish.
Renters left to fend for themselves
Lamphere is one of a handful of renters left in a particularly vulnerable situation because their landlords have not made repairs required by the receiver.
Thompson said renters could “be subject to very serious and irreversible action as a result of their landlord failing to come into compliance.”
Several renters at the mobile home park told The Bee that despite the park’s suspended permit, their landlords charged them rent while refusing to comply with the receivership’s orders. Several tenants added that agents of both the receiver and work contractor have made things a little more difficult.
Renter Heidi Phipps, who is represented by Thompson, has several chronic illnesses and late-stage cancer; she uses a wheelchair and ramp to enter her house where she lives with her husband, daughter, sister and brother-in-law. She said that Harmony Communities contractors removed parts of her fence, a table and dryer from her yard.
A work contractor with Harmony Communities, she said, told her that her ramp will be torn down, and when she explained she needed wheelchair access to her home, the work contractor accused her of faking her illness, according to her court declaration.
“I hate being a renter since all this has started,” Phipps said. “Our landlord made her responsibilities our responsibility.”
The California Receivership Group has a pending request that the court approve a $1.7 million sale of the park to Harmony Communities, which owns and operates 55 other mobile home parks across three states.
Other declarations by Trails End renters and homeowners alike show that work contractors have removed more than rubbish and combustible materials from their yards. One person said they were told they must remove their washer and dryers from their yard and were not told they could obtain permits to keep them. Many of the 16 individuals who live at the mobile home park who filed individual declarations said they felt intimidated by the work contractors and armed security guards.
Cash for keys offers
Several residents reported in declarations to the court that employees of Harmony Communities and the California Receivership Group have told people their homes will be demolished so they should leave before they are forced out. Several of them swore in court declarations that they were asked the cost of “voluntarily” moving out of the park. One resident allegedly accepted a cash-for-keys offer of $2,400, but later said they felt they had no other choice in the matter and wanted to stay at the mobile home park.
In response to a court inquiry on whether his organization was offering cash for keys, Mark Adams, the CEO of the California Receivership Group, admitted that there have been conversations with residents regarding “relocation services,” but there have been no formal agreements or eviction notices. Thompson said the formal process of offering relocation services has not been followed.
Judge Culver-Kapetan said no one who felt threatened to leave needs to leave the park; however, if people accept deals on their own volition, they can.
“Things have reached a boiling point and what is being represented by the receiver is inconsistent with residents’ experience,” Thompson told Fresnoland on Tuesday.
A status update hearing is scheduled for May 10, and several purchasing options, including a nonprofit named Caritas, will be discussed.