What's at stake?
For many residents and groups advocating for them, the unending saga at La Hacienda Mobile Home park is about whether Harmony Community’s concern was ever about improving health and safety for current residents, or just a ploy to push lower-income tenants out of their homes.
Patricia “Trissie” Shawn, a resident of La Hacienda Mobile Estate mobile home park, formerly known as Trails End, received notice on Jan. 25 that she was a defendant in an eviction lawsuit filed in the Fresno County Superior Court. She has lived in the park since 1997.
She found the eviction package hanging on her fence; the summons stated she had five days to file a written response or risk the court’s decision against her.
She scrambled to understand the language of the summons, meet with a lawyer and make the deadline.
Maria Magana’s eviction package, addressed to her parents who own the trailer home, arrived one day earlier, on Jan. 24. She has lived in the park for 17 years. She, too, struggled to find an attorney and file a response.
At a meeting of park residents on Jan. 27, Magana talked about fears of losing her home and having nowhere to go with her four children.
It’s uncertain how many of the residents were served the eviction summons, but no matter who you talk to in the mobile park, there’s a palpable level of anxiety among the residents, including those who have not yet received their package. No one knows if and when their own eviction notice will come.
Patsy Rajskup (76) has lived in the park for 32 years. She said she had not received an eviction notice as of Jan. 29, but she was scared one would show up.
“Everyone is worried,” Magana said. “We’re all on pins and needles.”
“It’s just a question of time before your own turn comes.”
For many residents and groups advocating for them, the unending saga at La Hacienda is about whether Harmony’s concern was ever about improving health and safety for current residents, as Harmony Communities says, or just a ploy to push lower-income tenants out of their homes.
Harmony Communities says it’s about rules
A spokesman for Harmony Communities, who gave a fictitious name to Fresnoland, stated in an email on Jan. 25 that “all evictions are for ongoing health and safety violations that pose a threat to the community.”
He insisted that the evictions are based on the report commissioned for the court by the court-appointed receiver, Mark Adams of the California Receivership Group and because of an agreement with the city of Fresno.
“Homeowners who cannot meet minimum health and safety standards, and continue to violate state laws, must be held accountable,” he stated, “if only for the safety of the rest of the community.”
Residents warned of evictions in October
In October 2022, 26 households received 60-day notices signed by Judy Tsai, attorney for La Hacienda Mobile Home park, informing them that their lease will be terminated, unless they followed new rules set by Harmony Communities, the owners of the park.
A paragraph in the letter, dated Oct. 3, stated that “the goal is to obtain your compliance, and not to bring an eviction action against you,” and that anyone who cured the violations would be fine.
The conditions for renewal of tenancy, according to the notice, included providing proof of clearance from the city’s code enforcement to the owners of the mobile park before the 60 days were up.
It seemed quite reasonable – curing the violations would mean continued tenancy.
To meet the 60-day deadline, residents cleared debris, repaired pavements, got rid of sheds and decks and other structures that were permitted under their old tenancy, but which Harmony now calls illegal. Some installed new windows, incurring large debts, like resident Kim Sands who said her uncle paid about $3,000 just to fix up her windows and make other repairs required by Harmony.
Throughout the fall, while discussions of the implications of the 60-day notices were going on, a spokesperson for Harmony Community, posted on Twitter numerous times that the organization was only interested in having residents make necessary repairs and follow the rules. Anyone who suggested the organization had other motives was quickly refuted on Twitter.
What has happened since the 60-day notices?
Now, after Harmony filed the eviction lawsuits against some La Hacienda residents, Mariah Thompson, attorney with the California Rural Legal Assistance, questions if getting residents to make repairs and bring their homes up to code was ever what the owners of the mobile home park wanted. She says she has reason to believe that Harmony has other motives.
“These evictions are not based on non-payment of rent or anything like that,” Thompson said. “What they (Harmony) are saying is that they should be able to kick people out of their homes.”
Some residents who received the eviction notice said Harmony’s agents continually either refused to accept or returned all the rents they paid in the three months since rent was reinstituted. Harmony now lists non-payment of rent as cause for eviction. Harmony stopped accepting rent from them, according to residents.
Shawn, Magana and Estella Arias Uribe said they were given their rent payments back. Shawn said she had tried to pay with a money order.
“I take it [rent] down every month. They bring it right frickin back – the same money order. Last time, he taped it to my fence. He taped my money order with a little bitty piece of tape to my fence.”
“They’re not accepting my rent, but in the lawsuit papers today, I found out they’re trying to charge me $10 a day from Nov. 1 of last year,” Shawn said on Jan. 26.
“I paid it in October. They returned it. I paid it in November. They returned it. I paid it in December. They held it, and I thought ‘Woohoo’, so I was getting ready to go down to pay in January because I got a bill for $900 for three months of rent,” Shawn said.
“I was like wait a minute, but I paid that. I’m like, ‘really?’ OK, so you guys aren’t marking it down when I turn it in.”
Alexander Alvarado, a community advocate with Faith in the Valley who has worked with residents of the mobile home park, said that what’s going on in La Hacienda park is happening in a lot of other places.
“There’s no one stopping any of these egregious landlords? It’s essentially fueling the way our capitalist system does housing, but it’s for profit. It’s a way of doing business,” she said.
“It’s the complete opposite of what we need for these folks in the community; they need their homes; they need safe and healthy conditions. They need a say in the rules in the communities that they live in.”
When the community met the night of Jan. 27, in the unlit empty lot – an open space with concrete floor where a mobile home sat a few months ago – one of the residents, 65-year-old Estella Arias Uribe (65) said, through a translator, that she didn’t know how to get herself to the courthouse for the legal process. She too worries she would have to forfeit her home.
Now retired, Arias Uribe has lived in the mobile home park for more than 20 years.
Thompson said that without prompt and proper legal representation, residents without representation are likely to lose their cases against aggressive landlords because of “technical filings, technical demands that someone without an attorney would likely not know even existed.”
“Landlords that file evictions are counting on people missing the deadlines, and they’re counting on entering what’s called the default judgment against them.”
‘I told everyone the evictions were going to come.’
On Feb. 2, Thompson filed a demurrer – a pleading that says that the eviction lawsuit by Harmony Communities had fatal flaws, and has not established valid cases against the residents they were trying to evict.
At a hearing on Wednesday, the court asked Harmony to redo their eviction lawsuit, extending the length of time before the trial can be set. Meanwhile, while the residents facing eviction must respond to Harmony’s amended lawsuit within five days, they can stay in their homes.
Thompson said that the larger issue is whether the actions of the Harmony Community are reasonable or even legal.
“This is exactly what I said was going to happen,” Thompson said during an interview with Fresnoland. “I told everyone the evictions were going to come.”
Thompson represents two of the residents who received the eviction summons whom she said should never have been served eviction notices, if Harmony Communities’ primary motivation was to get them to abide by the rules.
“This is the first park I’ve been involved in where they’ve gone through with evictions because of rule violations,” she said.
Maria Magana, whose unit is one of the ones marked for eviction, is one of the residents who devoted her limited resources to cure the violations. Now she questions if Harmony representatives dealt with the residents honestly.
“They’re just definitely lying, and everyone around here knows that,” she said, citing her specific case.
According to the initial inspection of her unit by the receiver, she had four things to remediate:
- Correct a missing door light fixture which leaves an opening in the unit and exposed wiring.
- Correct a broken window on the rear of the home.
- Collect and dispose an accumulation of refuse, garbage, rubbish, lumber scraps, litter, or other combustible waste on the lot, and
- Repair, replace, or reinstall a severely damaged awning support.
A letter from the City of Fresno’s code enforcement division, dated Dec. 6 and referring to an inspection of Magana’s unit on the same date, notes that three of the four deficiencies – the door light fixture, the accumulation of refuse as well as the awning – had been remedied.
The letter noted, however, that the situation of the missing and/or damaged window was still present, a claim she refutes. A $271.73 receipt from Fresno Glass, LLC, dated Dec. 2, four days before the City of Fresno reinspection, details labor and installation of the questionable window.
“They made us spend all this money to fix these places,” Magana said, and when she called Harmony representatives to inform them she passed the inspection from the city, she was told, “‘The city is aside from Harmony; the city has nothing to do with Harmony.’”
Thompson said that she sent proof that her client had passed the inspection to Harmony’s attorney, “She (Harmony attorney) responded that they’re going to continue with the eviction anyway.”
Harmony’s spokesman declined to respond to these claims on the record.
April Looms; New Rules, New Fears
In April, Harmony Communities will begin enforcing its new rules.
“We’re worried about what is going to come,” Thompson said. The rules restrict residency to only the owners of the trailer homes and regulate window coverings. and require dogs within a fenced yard to be on leashes.
“And you have to be holding the leash; you have to stand out there with the dog the whole time,” Thompson said. “Harmony is very aggressive about the rule enforcement.”
“The rules are extremely strict; they tried to ban air conditioners, and you’re not allowed to have a single person or single thing outside of your house, other than trash cans, recycling cans, and as long as they’re hidden.”
CRLA is challenging the legality of Harmony’s new rules in a different lawsuit.
Patricia Shawn says she’s worried that the new rules would mean that the maple tree in her yard, decorated with wind chimes and bright blue glass bottles, in memory of her mother, would be condemned. She has had that tree since her mother died more than 20 years ago. The new management called her tree “unsightly.”
They [green bottles on the tree] are just my favorite color and my mom’s favorite color, and their tinkering is just so beautiful.”
“I have nowhere to go. I have no family. My grandmother, who was the only other living relative, she’s 102 and in a rest home in Tulare. [Shawn’s grandmother died in the first week of February]. I’m on Social Security disability.”
Even La Hacienda residents, who have not received the eviction package yet, expressed concern about what lies ahead.
“We made it through the first wave,” said 67-year-old Lesley Wright via a text. “We’ll see if we make it through April 1.”