Trailer Park Tenants Have Rights But Few Options

Jun 9, 2016

Trailer parks can be a viable housing option for people living on low or fixed incomes. Nearly 63-thousand Oregonians live in these unique communities.  A tenant owns the home but rents the land it sits on. Mobile home park managers act as landlords--an arrangement that can work well-- or lead to trouble if power is abused. Sometimes tenants seek legal help over grievances.

Credit Tiffany Eckert

Voice: “Hello, how are you? Have a seat..”

Grant Turner is 70 years old.  Just over a year ago, he and his wife bought what he calls a derelict trailer for a dollar at Oakridge Mobile Home Park. He fixed it up. Turner rents this piece of ground for $265 a month. He complains park management has “broken promises” to make his lot accessible.

Turner: “I want gravel just like everybody else out here. I put in 5 requests. My wife is disabled and she can’t even get out there on her chair, because it’s a muddy driveway and there’s a two inch lip and if she goes over that she’s gonna teacup on her face.”

Grant Turner built the wheelchair ramp for his wife but the walkway on the rented lot has never been made accessible by the park.
Credit Tiffany Eckert

Before Turner’s time, Oakridge Mobile Home Park had a dark history of crime-- drug deals-- squatters. Oakridge police say half of the reports they received came from this place.

In 2014, St. Vincent de Paul bought the park—taking it over rental agreements and all. The agency put a park manager, a social service worker and a property management company in charge. Several blighted trailers were removed. The physical appearance upgraded. But, Turner says, on-site management style is threatening and often hostile.  

Last October, the Turners received a Notice of Termination of Lease. The stated cause was “interfering with management.”

Turner: “I can’t disagree with them. It’s either their way or the highway.”

The Turners sought legal counsel. 

Matthew Johnson is a self-described “poverty lawyer.” After writing letters to park attorneys, the Turner’s termination notice was deemed “unenforceable.”

Grant Turner understands that without a lawyer, he and his wife could have been tossed out. Johnson, who does a lot of pro bono work, says most of his clients don’t know their rights. Apartment dwellers can be evicted for no reason—but mobile home tenants are different.

Grant Turner tried to start a Tenant Association at Oakridge Mobile Home Park. He says it was not recognized by management.
Credit Tiffany Eckert

Johnson: “In a park, once you sign a rental agreement that rental agreement is good forever. And it can only be terminated or changed by mutual agreement or terminated for cause.”

Oregon law states “for cause” lease termination means three things: non-payment of rent, violating park rules and park closure.

Shortly after St. Vinney’s became owner, Johnson says several Oakridge Mobile Home Park tenants got a letter from Northwest Preferred Property Management.

Johnson:“And what they did was they told everybody ‘if you don’t sign a new rental agreement, we will evict you.’ That is not lawful.”

Glen Brewer has lived at Oakridge Mobile Home Park for ten years.

Glen Brewer has lived in this 5th wheel trailer at Oakridge Mobile Home Park for 10 years.
Credit Tiffany Eckert

Brewer: “I live in C4.”

Brewer is disabled and he lives on Social Security. He is here because he can’t afford to live anywhere else.

Brewer says park management has ignored his request to move a dryer vent that blows into his window. And, then there’s the cameras.

Brewer: “Right in my front yard, and my back yard. I’m constantly being watched.”

Reporter:“I’d like to see it.”

Brewer: “Yea, sure.”

These cameras (on both sides of the laundry/office building) are trained on tenant's yards and porches on the north side of Oakridge Mobile Home Park.
Credit Tiffany Eckert

Brewer: “There’s two of the cameras right there. You know the one looking in the garbage would be fine but they don’t need to watch everybody and what they’re doing. It’s just creepy. That’s how I feel like it’s a prison camp… There’s more cameras back here.”

Brewer also got the letter threatening eviction unless he signed a new lease. He asked Johnson for legal advice.

Johnson:  “The park’s excuse is ‘we don’t have copies of your rental agreement and the law requires us to have copies.’ Well, that means the park has violated the law.”

When Rita Wilson’s dad died, she bought his trailer at Oakridge Mobile Home Park.  She and her husband have lived here for a decade. Wilson works for the U.S. Forest Service. She pays her bills, tries to lay low. This is how she describes life in the park now.

Wilson: “There’s a lot of tension. Always a concern of “ok what’s going to happen today when I come home from work. Am I gonna have an eviction notice? and…why?”

Wilson has received three eviction notices since the new management took over. With legal help, each notice was rescinded. 

Terry McDonald has been Executive Director of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County since 1971. He’s overseen the agency’s purchase of five mobile home parks including this one. McDonald says many parks are substandard—sometimes tragically so.

McDonald: “But that doesn’t change the fact that people live in these parks. But the housing quality and the management and the degree to which opportunity is brought to those people is negligible. There’s virtually nothing being done for them.”

McDonald says they buy up places that are badly run down, fix them up, bring social services to them, and make them decent places to live again.

Reporter:”Have you heard of any concerns from tenants at Oakridge Mobile Home Park?”

McDonald:“Always. The one thing we know about affordable housing, as with all housing, is that people have concerns and issues no matter who they are, about wherever they are about what you’re trying to do.”

McDonald says he has full confidence in his staff in Oakridge and any complaints about St. Vincent de Paul personnel should go directly to him.

Rita Wilson would like to move away from Oakridge Mobile Home Park.

Wilson: “I know some people say, why do you live there? Well, I actually was going to move it on a piece of property in Oakridge and then I went to get the permit and I was told you cannot move a single wide trailer on to a piece of (private) property.”

Many Oregon cities have zoning codes like Oakridge. Attorney Johnson points out the word “mobile home” is a misnomer—because most trailers are fixed—never to move again. The people, like the homes they live in, are stuck.

Johnson: “They are trapped there. It’s a situation that is just ripe for abuse.”

The plight of these mobile home park tenants may seem hopeless, but it doesn’t have to be. There is a little known conflict resolution service available from the state. The Center for Dialogue and Resolution helps park tenants in dispute with neighbors, owners or managers. Trained mediators walk through the issues to offer up solutions. This service is free and confidential. Last year, the Center helped 61 tenants resolve disputes.  

Note: St. Vincent de Paul is an underwriter of KLCC.

Chip Coker is Executive Director of The Center for Dialogue and Resolution. Listen to an extended interview about the the conflict resolution services available free of charge to any tenant of a mobile home park in Lane County:

For more information about FREE mediation services for tenants in Lane County mobile home parks, see the website for the Center for Dialogue and Resolution:

http://www.lanecdr.org/

Oregon Office for Community Dispute Resolution offers  access to links of all 16 community mediation centers throughout the state:

https://law.uoregon.edu/explore/OOCDR