San Rafael residents victimized by eviction threats

January 17, 2011 7:06:49 PM PST
In Marin County, dozens of mobile home owners are reeling from eviction letters.

Their homes had minor violations in a routine state inspection, but they say their landlord is using those violations as an excuse to get them out and charge new tenants higher rent.

For residents, it has become a little like Hell on Earth in a place that once offered a promise of paradise.

"I think that it's harassment," one resident said.

"Well, it's absurd," said another.

In San Rafael's Contempo Marin, dozens of mobile home owners have received eviction warnings from their landlord because a routine state inspection found minor violations on their properties.

"And they receive letters that say in seven days, if you don't fix everything that was on your inspection, that we'll evict you," explained homeowner Keith Meloney.

The violations could be for stairways, for decks, for weeds, or for rubbish. Wanda McBade got an eviction warning for putting up Christmas lights without a proper electrical permit.

"I've been signed off, luckily. I met with the inspector and he couldn't believe that they had sent me this letter," she said.

Three years ago, Equity Lifestyle Properties, which owns the land, won a judgment ending rent control for any vacated properties and for all of them by 2018. That move devastated housing values in the area, leaving owners upside down, underwater, and helpless. Some have just given their homes away and moved out.

"If they remove a resident from a home, then the rent control for that home site ends and the new person who's placed in that home will pay three times the rent," Meloney said.

On-site management would not comment, but by telephone, a company spokesman told ABC7 News that "to preserve our legal rights, we need to induce residents to fix the problems."

However, it may not be that simple. Equity Lifestyle Properties has decided to put some of the homes up for sale. One is on the market for $5,000, but of course it needs a little bit work. The steps leading down to the driveway are gone. It leads to a question: Is there a double standard here?

It is a question that management did not want to answer.

"But, we do have a vicious park owner that's wanting to get his way, no matter what," homeowner John Sherry said.

Meantime, repairs continue at Contemp Marin at a frantic pace despite a deadline of January 20 that appears to be landlord-manufactured. The state's deadline is still more than one month away.

"Everyone in this park has been a victim," McBade said.