The exploitation of poor people was going on smoothly at a mobile home park in Oracle until May, when a couple of rabble-rousers from Tucson showed up.
The managers of Village Square Mobile Home Park were signing rent-to-own agreements with tenants who were unaware of the trailers’ true conditions and questionable ownership. No electricity in some, no gas in others, no cooling in many, no titles or VIN numbers in some cases.
Then in May a tenant, Barbara Howard, went looking for help from the Arizona Association of Manufactured Homes and RV Owners, or AAMHO. What the association’s district director for Southeastern Arizona, Eileen Green, has uncovered with the help of her husband, Don Owen, is both startling and familiar.
In short, tenants spoke of being “sold” trailers that were not individually identified in sales agreements and that were in such poor conditions as to be unlivable — not an uncommon occurrence in some of Southern Arizona’s run-down mobile home parks.
If you’ve read my column or colleague Emily Bregel’s story on the subject, you’ll recall that after such sales, the resulting conflicts between landlord and tenant over the conditions of the trailers then often allow the landlord to kick out the tenant, keep their payments and resell the trailer again.
A representative of the company that owns the mobile home court, Tim King, told me in answer to questions I sent via email that the owners are not playing that game. The new owners, who bought the park in 2012, are trying to improve conditions at the park and have reduced police calls, among other efforts.
“Making this park better is not easy, will take time, and we are experiencing some growing pains,” King acknowledged. “These few cases you mention are anomalies for us, as most of our residents own their own home, pay space rent on time, and are appreciative of how we’re cleaning up the park.”
This spring, Howard, 53, and Tyrone Powell, 57, were looking for a place to live and came across some inexpensive offerings at the Oracle park. They went up, got a tour with manager Pat Tellez, and were unimpressed with the conditions, telling her that they were looking for something move-in-ready.
Howard told me her story by phone from Oklahoma, where she and Powell are living right now as they take care of an ill relative.
Tellez promised a trailer would be ready to move in within a week, Howard said, but it was two months before they actually moved in. To understand how an apparently bright person could get into the situation she got in, you need to understand that Howard and Powell are both disabled and hired other people to move them on May 1.
“We had to pay somebody to load the truck, and when we got there, we had to pay a couple of other guys to unload it. We didn’t even go inside,” she said.
“Once we got everything inside we realized there was a problem,” Howard said. “Only one room, the little bedroom, had power in it. Pat gave us an extension cord, so we attached everything to it. We found out somebody had stolen all the wiring from underneath the mobile home.”
Tellez promised to have the wiring redone, but when it was done, it was done incorrectly, Howard said. As temperatures soared toward the end of May, she and Powell baked in a trailer with no cooling and spotty electricity. They contacted a Pinal County inspector and they contacted Green.
Green is a retired bank auditor from Washington state. Her husband, Owen, is a retired attorney from Pennsylvania. They live in a nice Tucson mobile home and have the skills between them to help out mobile-home residents who are having trouble.
Green promptly helped Howard and Powell write a 10-day notice as provided for by Arizona’s Mobile Home Parks Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. The act, which is separate from the landlord-tenant act governing apartments and houses, says tenants may give 10 days notice to correct problems that affect the health and safety of tenants. If they go unrepaired in those 10 days, the tenant may terminate the lease 20 days after the notice is delivered.
The notice, of course, did not please the managers of the park, Howard said. She told them she wanted back the $1,000 they’d put down at the outset, $750 as rent and $250 as a deposit on the electric bill.
“I told them if you give us the money, we’ll leave right now,” she told me.
It of course wasn’t that easy, but eventually Tellez met Powell and Howard at the Western Union office inside the Bashas’ in Catalina and got $900 back. They refused to sign a waiver of liability form, and with Green’s help, they’ve filed a complaint with the Arizona Department of Fire, Building and Life Safety, which oversees mobile-home safety standards. They are expecting an administrative hearing.
“We want to be there for that court date, because what they did is wrong,” Howard said. “We don’t know how long they’ve been doing this to people, but probably a long time before we got there.”
Certainly similar problems were occurring to other tenants at the same time. Daniel Kramer was in a tight spot when he checked out a trailer there and thought the deal — $350 per month and he’d own the trailer in two years — was a good one.
“I met with her (Pat Tellez), I was kind of in a hurry, so I walked through. It didn’t look too bad for what they originally wanted me to pay for it, so I agreed to move in,” Kramer said. “When I got the keys the following day, all the appliances were out of it. There were wires where they took ceiling fans out.”
The VIN number that was supposed to be attached to his trailer was on another one. Also, he said Tellez insisted that if he wanted a copy of the lease/purchase agreement, he would have to go to the library and print it out himself.
A familiar pattern ensued of Kramer demanding repairs, the management resisting, and Kramer, with Green’s help, filing a 10-day notice. Needless to say, the management’s response was not to fix the problems.
“They shut the water and power off on me. Middle of the day with my kid there and everything,” he said.
King disputed Kramer’s version of events.
“The people who you mention in this email paid almost no money for their time at the park, and in some cases used utilities that were never paid. We have to then go in, rekey, refix and reclean the unit, as well as pay all the utilities. They have been money losers, not money makers,” King said.
“If our goal was to resell trailers over and over again, we have failed miserably, because the cases you cite have been nothing but money drains for the park.”
Despite King’s denials, when I visited the park Tuesday, I spoke with several people who said they had similar experiences but were afraid to be named. They told of nonfunctional gas and electric service, missing stoves and other appliances, utility bills that were estimated, mobile homes brought in the middle of the night, and other anomalies.
Thanks to a couple of Tucson retirees offering their skills to people who need the aid, this conduct is getting an airing. Now it’s up to state and county authorities to do their job and act.