What's at stake?
Residents of the Trails' End Mobile Home Park are learning that receivership of housing with substandard conditions does not always result in housing stability.
After over a year of battling to stay in their homes, residents of the Trails End Mobile Home Park in northeast Fresno are facing one of their worst nightmares: eviction.
Twenty-six tenants received 60-day notices on Oct. 6. The notices tell tenants that their lease will be terminated, unless they follow new rules set by Harmony Communities, the new owners of the park.
For residents who do not follow the new rules, which include keeping public spaces weed-free and removing personal items stored outside, they’re likely facing eviction. They’ll have to either remove their mobile home from the park or sell their mobile home within the next 60 days, according to a letter signed by Judy Tsai, attorney for Trails End Mobile Home park.
The issue has raised the question for many at Trails End: are the rules meant to improve health and safety for current residents, as Harmony Communities says, or are they a tactic to push lower-income tenants out of their homes?
During an interview with Fresnoland on Tuesday, Mark S. Adams, president of the California Receivership Group – which still has administrative duties at the park until escrow closes, said that the state mandates each park to have rules. “The process isn’t a persecution of the Trails End residents,” he added.
But mobile home park owners have discretion over how to create rules that enforce the state’s mandate to protect health and safety.
The mobile home park residents knew the notices were coming. One day earlier, Mariah Thompson, the attorney who represents Trails End United for Change as well as several residents of the mobile home park, met with the residents to update them on new developments and their implications.
The decision to begin eviction proceedings was cleared in a ruling by Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver-Capetan on Sept. 29. The ruling also formally ended the receivership of the park held by California Receivership Group since Nov. 10, 2021.
The point of the receivership was to improve substandard living conditions for residents after a deadly fire in April 2021.
According to Thompson, Harmony Communities will not have to go to seek the court’s permission to evict a resident.
Thompson explained that the 60-day notice is just another step in a process that started when the mobile home park went into receivership in November 2021. At that time, residents were told they needed to follow the park’s rules because they are necessary to protect the health and safety of residents.
During the receivership period, many of the residents have received as many as three seven-day notices to bring their mobile homes into compliance.
Adams, with the California Receivership Group, maintains that “the park rules that are being enforced are the same rules that were in place before” the receivership appointment.
How did we get here?
- April 2021: A deadly fire killed a resident and hospitalized two others.
- May 2021: City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld and Mayor Jerry Dyer co-sponsored an ordinance to have the city take control of enforcement at local mobile home parks.
- June 2021: A second fire broke out the night of June 10, destroying three mobile homes and damaging another. The city of Fresno then received state approval to assume responsibility for enforcing health and safety codes at local mobile home parks.
- Nov 2021: The Fresno County Superior Court appointed the California Receivership Group as the receiver of Trails End.
- May 2022: Judge Kristi Culver-Kapetan approved the sale of Trails End Mobile Home Park to Harmony Communities for $1.7 million, despite months of protests from residents and advocates.
New rules confound residents
In June, the receivers created a new set of rules for Trails End residents, some of which Deyce Gomez, a resident, describes as absurd.
Gomez rents a double trailer with her daughter and brother. Her mother and sister share another trailer in the mobile home park. Gomez said they have lived in chaos and uncertainty for almost two years, but that things got worse since the management instituted a new set of rules in June.
“Around May or June, they gave us a new set of rules, along with the old set of rules, and said, ‘these are the new rules you’re supposed to follow. We’re gonna give you six months to come into compliance with them’,” Gomez said.
“But some of these rules are like – you cannot have a certain color curtain; you cannot have furniture outside that’s not designated as patio furniture; you cannot have these many cars. My mom specifically was told she had too many wind chimes and she had too many flowerpots.”
Residents say the new rules make some practices that had been standardized under the old ownership illegal. For example, Rule 2C specifies that “residents of the mobile home must be the “legal” or “registered” owner of the mobile home, and that person must live in the mobile home on a full-time basis. No subletting or renting of the mobile home or space is permitted. No assignment of this lease is permitted.”
This rule, in effect, affects a large number of residents, many of whom voiced concerns about their plight during the Wednesday meeting.
“I kind of feel bad for them because they’re going to probably end up getting kicked out after they’ve been living here probably most of their lives,” said Aurelia Franquez (19), a student at Fresno City College, who has lived in Trails End all her life. “It’s not easy for them; there’s a lot of elderly people here, and they don’t have jobs. It’s like this is the only place where they can live so cheap.”
“My social security isn’t enough”
In an interview with Fresnoland one day before the meeting with Trails End residents, Thompson explained that the 60-day notice is not quite as simple as just having two months to fix whatever management requires. Instead, she said, it could mean a lot more. “You are no longer a tenant of this park; you have 60 days to move; we’re not accepting rent from you anymore.”
Thompson added that the receiver and Harmony Communities play down the implications of the 60-day notice. “They (the receiver and Harmony) will say, ‘Oh, it’s just a 60-day notice. It doesn’t mean anything because it’s not an eviction’.”
Adams, the mobile home park receiver, said the 60-day notices “relate to non-imminent repairs that are the sole responsibility of the individual homeowners to correct, and that if “the homeowner makes the necessary repairs within the 60-days, the 60-day notice will be rescinded, and no further action will be taken.”
Among the residents were Billie Merle Hasting (58), his girlfriend of 33 years – Linda Satterwhite (55), Hastings’ niece, Crystal Plascencia, who said she was there to speak on behalf of her uncle, Aurelia Franquez (19), a student at Fresno City College, and Leslie Wright (67), who has a disability and relies on a walker for mobility.
As daylight faded into darkness on Wednesday evening in an empty lot in Trails End – an open space with concrete floor where a mobile home sat a few months ago – approximately 40 residents sat in lawn chairs, eating pizzas and cookies spread out on a table set up by representatives of the Central Rural Legal Assistance.
Hasting said his situation is dire and that he faced imminent homelessness unless someone came to his aid. Clutching a 30-day eviction letter he said he had received earlier that day from his landlord, Hastings, aided by his niece, said he felt abandoned by everyone who should be advocating for him.
He has lived in Trails End for 20 years and had owned his own mobile home (Space 22) until it burnt down in the fire in June 2021. His home was one of the three mobile homes destroyed by the second fire at the park, likely due to electrical problems. One other home was damaged.
“Most folks here, you know, their sister-in-law lives here, and their moms and then their sister and their brother and her uncle, so all of their families also live in the same park, and so they don’t have any other family or friends to turn to,” said Alexandra Alvarado, a community organizer with Faith in the Valley.
“And for the folks that have already left this place – a couple whose homes have been demolished – as far as we know, when we were talking with them, they just went out to the streets.”
Leslie Wright co-owns her trailer home with her son. She echoed a sentiment that was expressed throughout the evening – that the residents of Trails End had been abandoned.
“There’s going to be a lot of evictions, and that’s what concerns me because this might sound like the voice of doom,” said Wright, who has lived in Trails End for 22 years. “But I keep telling everybody to start preparing, and you can bet, out of the 26 families that are going to be evicted, I’m on it, because they don’t like me. I tell them straight up, you know.”
Wright had received the seven-day notices and said the residents have gone through a lot and lost a lot of their possessions already “because we couldn’t produce a permit [to show certain additions to the original structure were authorized]; it was totally there when I moved in over 20 years ago. So we lost a bedroom.”
“The city [code enforcement] took people’s washing machines; we had ours out in the driveway, in the carport for 22 years. We had to move it. Luckily, we had room in the bathroom. But a lot of people didn’t, and they still don’t have their washing machines. There’s one gentleman here, in his 70s, and he has a bicycle, he has to take his laundry over to First and Bullard.”
Wright is also worried about what comes afterwards and where they’ll all end up. “I’ve got a daughter and a sister. I’m more concerned about my son and my grandson,” Wright said. “I don’t know. I don’t earn enough. My social security isn’t enough for me to rent an apartment, let alone food or utilities.”
What the landlord can and cannot do
“A mobile home is entitled to the legal process – a very particular strict legal process that a landlord must go through to evict somebody; that includes people that are living in mobile homes,” Mariah Thompson told the gathered Trails End residents on Wednesday.
“You have a right to receive notice. And it has to be the correct notice,” she added. “If you have been living here in the park for more than a year, you are required to get at least two months’ notice.”
She added that the landlord must meet other requirements before they can evict.
“So if your landlord says, get out by next Tuesday, I’m selling the mobile home; they can’t do that. They can say that to you, and you can voluntarily leave if you want to. But really, at the end of the day, you don’t have to have to leave until a court tells you,” she said.
Waiting until the court tells you to leave your house, she said, might result in getting an eviction on your record, “but you can’t be forced out.”
Thompson continued, “It is also illegal for a landlord to take your stuff out of the house when you’re not there; or to change the locks; or to turn off the water; or really do anything at all that kind of forces you to leave. They can’t threaten you.”
She encouraged renters to contact her office, if “anything suspicious starts happening.”
Thompson said she’s in contact with the city of Fresno’s Eviction Protection program to see if they can assist any tenants with legal assistance.
Set up in August, the Eviction Protection Program provides free legal help for Fresno renters who are facing an unlawful eviction. Eligibility for the program is not affected by a renter’s income level or citizenship status.
Thompson also promised to reach out to other legal groups to seek representation for the Trails End residents.
Harmony Communities has not responded to Fresnoland’s emails and calls. However, through Twitter, Harmony Communities stated, “Mariah (Thompson) is not being honest with the intent of the notices. Health and safety violations must be addressed to keep the community as a whole safe.”
Another Harmony Communities tweet noted, “…once the health and safety violation is cured, tenancies reinstated.”