Attorneys have always been part of the process to protect MH owners here in California. We often get calls from MH owners asking for a recommendation. Obviously, many MH owners feel an attorney is the only solution to their problem. That is understandable since most advocates say: Enforcement of the civil code (Mobilehome Residency Law (MRL)) is up to you. We at MH Life disagree.
What MH Life Suggests
We suggest individuals hire an attorney only as a last resort. The use of an attorney has some pitfalls:
Few attorneys are versed in the MRL and finding one is difficult if not impossible. Few attorneys understand the dynamics of landlord-tenant relations in rental parks.
Most attorneys require an advance sum of money, perhaps $2,500 or $5,000 before they will get involved.
Litigation takes a long time and park owners know it.
There is no guarantee you will prevail, even if you have a good attorney.
If you lose, you may have to pay attorney fees for the other side.
If you do win in small claims court (you can’t use an attorney here), park owners will often appeal in Superior Court (where you do need an attorney).
We feel attorneys are necessary for “class action” lawsuits, like failure to maintain, where many residents in a park are involved.
Some Background From Donna Matthews
Recently we asked Donna Matthews about her experience with attorneys. If you recall, Donna lost her home over a $75 utility bill. As an advocate, she has spent much of her time working with attorneys.
In my 25 years as an advocate, I have had many dealings with park attorneys and I believe:
The park owner uses attorneys to front for them so they will not be involved. An attorney can say anything in their briefs, even things not relative to the violation or to mobilehome law relative to the violation. This encumbers the length of the brief so in trial he can confuse the judge and argue other points. The law states this is illegal but how can it be proved?
They make briefs pages and pages long for a simple accused violation. I sent a complaint about an attorney to the State Bar Association, giving all the facts, but was turned down. (at least it got on file.)
Attorneys used by MH owners don’t seem to know or argue MH laws, so the judge so often gives an opinion on the park owner’s attorneys case. And the park owner is never heard.
A park owner also uses attorneys to threaten, intimidate, and harass the homeowners. Then it is not easy for the homeowner to prove these accusations against the park owner.
Experiences of Frank Wodley
I too have experience with attorneys. Before becoming involved with advocacy, I hired an attorney to write a letter – cost me $1000. In another instance, the park manager took me, the GSMOL chapter president, to court seeking a restraining order (first step to eviction). My attorney bill was $4000. As the President of COMO-CAL I employed several attorneys at a cost of about $10,000.
What were the outcomes. The first attorney really didn’t know MH law, and the letter was not a big help. The outcome of the restraining order case – the judge suggested settling out of court. One attorney hired by COMO-CAL did a good job writing letters and articles, until he fell off the face of the earth. Efforts to replace him were unsuccessful and subsequent attorneys took the money without producing any results. Quite sad!
What Callers Say
It goes without saying many MH owners across the state face serious issues every day. In fact, we get calls from a few. Most often we hear there is no one out there willing to help. Certainly no government agency. Often the caller says we are the only ones willing to listen to them.
Your First Step – MH Life & COMO-CAL
We feel your first line of defense against an unscrupulous park owner is receiving and reading MH Life. You are connected to and part of the “Life” Community at no cost to you. You know what’s happening around the state and have an idea the laws that protect you. You have some facts to determine if your park owner is following the law or now. And you know who to call when you need help (if you call us for help, we will usually recommend you join COMO-CAL). Resolving problems need not be like nuclear science. MH Life is a real option, one that costs you nothing. So keep reading MH Life and know you have options!
Unfortunately just reading MH Life does not mean you have a magic shield protecting you. Protecting yourself requires some action on your part. If you read the magazine and put it down and take no action, we can’t help you, you’re not on our radar, we don’t know if you have issues in your park, and you remain one of the apathetic. Ultimately, we must know you have an issue and then we can only help those that help themselves, i.e. join COMO-CAL. Remember, you get a real deal if you join now – guaranteed receipt of MH Life, a free FAQ Handbook (a $6 value), with $7 of your $24 going into a legal fund, plus a $4 donation if your park has a residents’ group.
One caveat. No one can solve your individual issues unless you pay the piper. (We will make suggestions via our advisory committees and/or have an attorney write a letter). But MH Life and COMO-CAL can certainly help when an issue affects many, such as harassment, intimidation, interference of sales, failure to maintain, etc. We can expose those unscrupulous park owners and praise those who respect and value their residents.
Your Second Step – Organize
You don’t stand a chance as an individual. You are much less vulnerable when you are part of a group; therefore, we feel protecting yourself requires you team with others. Being part of a group is not as hard as it may seem and we will help. If you have issues in your park, and most of you do, the first step is getting together with a couple of your neighbors. Decide to form an informal group. Flyer the park and invite others to join (we can help you write a flyer). Keep it simple. You don’t have to incorporate or have a fancy name. You may need an Employment Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS (10 minutes online) to start a bank account and three folks to form a Board (President, V.P. and Secretary/Treasurer).
Next, call an informal meeting to decide what issues the group should face first. Have an agenda. Have folks use a 3×5 card to a question or ask to speak. Keep order! Nothing gets done with everyone talking over each other and those attending may decide never to return!
Finally, recommend everyone join COMO-CAL. COMO-CAL wants your group to succeed and prosper.
MH Life & COMO-CAL – The “A” Team
Today, your first line of defense is MH Life and COMO-CAL. Through MH Life, you are informed about your rights, and the struggles around the state. We reach almost 25,000 spaces a month and are working to grow our community. And you know there is help, as close as a membership in COMO-CAL.
Why spend anymore than $2/month for help when we are there for you? Why spend $1000 for an attorney to write a letter or get some advice? Try us, you’ll like us!
The COMO-CAL TEAM
COMO-CAL isn’t just one or two or three people. COMO-CAL is a state-wide network of MH owners who are making a difference in their individual areas. These are folks who have decided to team up with us to form advisory groups to advise MH owners.
The Chicken and the Egg
Sure, we all know the question, which came first the chicken or the egg? Actually unscrupulous park owners came first, wanting to skirt the law and take advantage of MH owners. That’s what led to the formation of GSMOL and the MRL.
The saying has another application. It involves trust. Many are asking themselves: I’ve never heard of COMO-CAL. What have they done? Why haven’t they been helping us? How can I trust a group that is so new. I need to know more about them before I can even think of joining.
Actually there is a simple answer. You are right in questioning; however COMO-CAL has always been there, just not under theCOMO-CAL name. Those of us now associated with CAMOA have hundreds of years of experience dealing with park owners and managers. That’s a fact Jack! And we are dedicated to helping our fellow MH owners.
COMO-CAL is already making a difference; however it is impossible to help you if you don’t join. As with any business, COMO-CAL is less effective without a client (membership) base and an income stream. We need at least 2,500 to really start going.
So back to the chicken and the egg. When do you join COMO-CAL? After you’ve read about them for years, after you can see for yourself that they are doing good, after thousands have joined? Or do you have faith that CAMOA can get the job done, although it is relatively new, and join now when CAMOA really needs your support?
From Donna Matthews:
I Believe we should find a way to force Housing and Community Development (HCD) and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to ENFORCE MOBILEHOME LAWS.
Homeowner lawyers must know all aspects of the mobilehome park laws, and make sure the judges are aware of them.
Make the briefs very simple. Do not go into many other judgements, just the fact of this case and argue the MH laws.
In all cases, send an interrogatory, with a proof of service, to the park owner with questions he must answer concerning the accused violation.
We at MH Life have been a big fan of another option, namely the Washington State’s Manufactured Housing Dispute Resolution Program, which we have written about for over 7 years. Website: http://www.atg.wa.gov/MHDR.aspx#.U_ymp_ldV8E
Should you want to see the 2013 Annual Report on the program, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you a copy.
Of course this option requires the passage of legislation in Sacramento. We feel it would be extremely beneficial to MH owners. Let’s all let GSMOL know we support such legislation, and soon. We need ENFORCEMENT!