If you live in a trailer park, you can face expensive fees for breaking park rules—$50 for as little as a few weeds in your yard. Now, some residents are forming a tenant association to oppose strict park rules.
Klint and Lisa Breeding live in a mobile home park in West Boise filled with bright white trailers and tall pine trees. Their trailer is spacious, with a big backyard where Lisa grows zucchini, cantaloupe and tomatoes.
The couple moved here with their kids two years ago from Idaho City. They lease the land for about $500 a month and own the trailer outright. They were excited then to have found a place they could afford in Boise’s tight housing market.
Soon after moving in, the Breedings started to receive notices that they had violated their lease. One was for a utility trailer they’d parked temporarily in the park to transport debris from renovating their mobile home. Another said that a homemade concession stand, built for Halloween, could not be stored in their driveway. Each notice carried a fee of $50.
The notices came from the management company in charge of the Breeding’s park. Law Property Management oversees 20 mobile home parks located throughout the Treasure Valley. The Breedings say the notices quickly took a toll on their finances—and their mental health.
“When you’re at home, you’re waiting for somebody to drop a notice off or be out there taking pictures of your property,” says Lisa Breeding. “It’s just really stressful and puts people on edge.”
So the Breedings have founded a tenant association called Communities For Better Living to protect the small plot they’ve managed to carve out for themselves, as well as to safeguard their neighbors' rights.
A dozen tenants in parks managed by Law Property Management say they’ve received lease violation notices for things like having a barbeque in the front yard, parking too many cars, or leaving fall leaves on the ground.
Eugene Weinstine, president of the company, says tenants should not be surprised by the notices. The park rules and the $50 fee are clearly stated on the lease.
“[The fee] is even stated in bold,” says Weinstine. “I do have empathy for them. But at the same time, it is very difficult as a business to have compassion for people that clearly violate terms of the lease or park rules.”
Latonia Haney Keith runs the housing clinic at Concordia University School of Law in Boise. She says these types of fees are both legal and common.
“I really would just urge the companies that believe that that’s something they should do, to really think about the burden that it places on their tenants,” Haney Keith says.
According to Law Property Management’s lease, service fees count towards a tenant’s rent. So if tenants don’t pay they’ll fall into arrears. That's grounds for expedited eviction in Idaho, says Matthew Taylor, an attorney in Boise.
“The tenant’s hands are tied,” says Taylor. “Either they have to defend, in an eviction action, that that’s an unfair business practice. Or pay the $50. And if you’re wrong, the consequence is so severe to you. You’re out.”
Andy Jones has lived in the same park as the Breedings since before Law Property started managing it. When the company took over two years ago, he had to pay a fee for having a tire in his front yard that was being used as a flowerpot. The tire had been there since 1969.
“We don’t always have extra money to pay an extra $50 fine,” says Jones. “We’re good, hard-working citizens. We’re trying to get by just like everybody else.”
Weinstine notes the fee just covers the cost of hiring an outside company to serve notices, a task, he says, that wouldn't be feasible for his small staff of three employees to do themselves. Besides, Weinstine says, he doesn’t set the rules. His clients—those who own mobile home parks—do.
“Park owners want us to do monthly inspections of the parks so the condition of the park is maintained to their standards,” says Weinstine.
The owner of the Breeding’s park and 14 others in Ada County is a man named Randy Hoffer. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Hoffer and Law Property Management are currently being sued in federal court by two tenants. The suit alleges that Hoffer and Law Property failed to respond for months to requests to fix a backed-up sewage line, resulting in a buildup of raw sewage beneath a trailer.
Weinstine initially said he would not comment on an ongoing case. He later said that the plaintiffs owned their trailer and the broken pipe which led to the sewage buildup was their responsibility to fix.
In a normal market, you’d expect tenants to vote with their feet if they don’t like a landlord. But the squeeze in Boise’s housing market means there are few options for low-income residents. Some tenants just don’t have a choice, says Taylor.
For Klint and Lisa Breeding, moving isn’t an option. Their trailer is too modified to move off the lot. Through Communities For Better Living they plan to document what they see as unfair violations and retain legal counsel.
“We want a resolution between the property management company, the park owners and the tenants to all coincide, instead of fining for petty stuff that people shouldn’t be getting fined for,” says Lisa Breeding. “We just want to live in peace.”
For now, the Breedings urge their neighbors to keep paying their fees.
Copyright 2018 Boise State Public Radio
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