In a way I hesitate to write this. It is very personal. But my story is like many others. And it shows the ruthlessness of some park owners and the plight of many mobilehome owners. It also shows something about organizations we believe are going to help us.
I thought you might like to hear my story, it is like many of yours. I moved into Chatsworth Mobilehome Park in August 1998. I thought it would be a nice place to live, the park was well kept with mature trees, the streets wide, a nice clubhouse and pool. My wife had found an inexpensive single wide, the rent after the earthquake was capped at $450.00. Certainly an inexpensive alternative to buying a house.
As with so many who have come to live in California’s mobilehome parks, little did I know what was about to happen. Just three months after moving-in, the clubhouse was closed by the manager, citing vandalism. Residents liked to call the manager “Little Hitler;” She rode around the park on her golf cart as if surveying her territory, keeping the peasants in line. It was like living in Nazi Germany. Management did, and continues to have, those residents who side with management (they hurt everyone in the long run, just to get favored status).
My neighbor from hell was friends with management and together they made my life miserable for five years. I received many 7 day notices or friendly reminders for trivial or non-existent conditions. My neighbor said paint I was storing was a fire hazard—although the fire department said it was not. My letters to management written in my defense were ignored. And I was not the only one, many of my friends and neighbors were treated the same way.
In 2003 I was facing an eviction. After three 7 day notices to remove some tools and other items from a side yard enclosure (which the manager let me build so nothing would be seen from the street) the park plastered a 60 day notice on my front door from attorney Alston stating “
I needed someone to tell me what to do. Facing an eviction notice can be very scary, especially if you don’t have the funds to consult with an attorney at $200—$300/hour or know someone who is knowledgeable. I made phone calls, and scanned the phonebook. Finally I found someone about 50 miles away who knew of GSMOL. He suggested that I have a meeting in my clubhouse and invite all residents to attend. He said he would talk about our park Rules and Regulations versus the Mobilehome Residency Law. So what happened? Actually I was too afraid to pass out flyers—where do I put them, will I get in trouble, etc. So nothing came of it. Ultimately I had to spend several hundred dollars to retain an attorney. He wrote letters to the park without much success.
ASSOCIATION WITH GSMOL
Many of you probably know nothing about Golden State Mobilehome Owners League (GSMOL). GSMOL has been around for 44 years. Their membership in the early 1990’s was over 90,000. They have been the strongest mobilehome owners group in the state of California and their focus is in Sacramento with their lobbyist Maurice Priest. They are located in Garden Grove, California, their membership dues are $20.00, and they have a statewide volunteer network of hard working mobilehome owners. GSMOL has been responsible for many of the laws we see in the Mobilehome Residency Law.
In 2003 GSMOL Regional Manager Ralph Weber came to our park and installed a GSMOL Chapter. I felt relieved! Unfortunately the Chapter Board that was elected was pro-management! They held no meetings, they gave out incorrect information. Management loved it. In 2004 my friend Jean Mellen called GSMOL once again to come. Seventy irate residents attended the meeting. But the Secretary from the previous board stood up and said “This is an illegal meeting!” No one questioned her and residents left without accomplishing anything (by the way Jean had the permission of GSMOL to hold the meeting, so it wasn’t illegal). Finally a month or two later with Milt Burdick, Zone C Vice President, in attendance, residents wanted to install a new board. The former manager volunteered, but residents quickly said no. I reluctantly volunteered to be Chapter President. With the help of my friends and family, our chapter grew to about 95 members (198 spaces in the park). I worked hard. We had monthly meetings. I would print flyers for the whole park for each meeting. My 8 year old boy would distribute the flyers in the park, sometimes alone, other times with his friends and my wife personally recruited about 30 new members.
SUED BY THE PARK
Like many “active” residents who are advocates for the rights of mobilehome owners, the park didn’t like me talking to residents, explaining their rights and bugging management for change. So they took me to court claiming I was stalking, intimidating, abusive and threatening the manager, i.e. guilty of unlawful harassment of the park manager.
The park served me with papers that were months old by someone pretending to be a resident of another park who needed my help—I let him enter my home and he served me the papers (actually this person was working for my park owner). Fortunately I had a meeting with an attorney scheduled for the very next day. The attorney went to the internet and found my court date was only four days off. I had to plunk down a deposit of $1000.00. The manager, who was suing me “pro-per,” came to court with eight of her friends and the attorney for the park, Robert Williamson, Jr, from Hart, King & Coldren. Fortunately we were able to get a continuance.
When we went back to court, Sally (not her real name), was on the stand most of the first day, crying, telling of the almost constant harassment from Frank. They did not want the court to view the lawsuit as Sally, the park manager, versus Frank Wodley, the GSMOL chapter president. The word GSMOL was not allowed to be spoken. This was that big hulk Frank Wodley versus the little, petit single mother Sally. When the trial continued after a weekend recess, Sally’s attorney showed up with another document indicating several more incidents to corroborate their claim that Frank had been abusive, and threatening,
THE OUTCOME OF THE LAWSUIT
Fortunately for me, the judge saw between the lines and confronted the managers attorney, stating:
“If the judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that unlawful harassment exists, an injunction shall (be) issued prohibiting harassment. That standard is more than preponderance of the evidence. It’s less than beyond a reasonable doubt. But from what I’ve heard based on Sally’s testimony, her testimony does not reach that standard in the court’s opinion. So from now on she — the moving party, when it comes to attorney’s fees, the moving party is proceeding at her peril from this point on. Perhaps ….the two lawyers ..might want to discuss this case…” A settlement agreement was entered into with a “confidentiality clause.”
Neither party (GSMOL could) could discuss the terms of the settlement In fact I gave a copy of the court transcript to GSMOL hoping they would defend my position. Alas, GSMOL never came to my park to explain that I was not guilty of any harassment. In fact I had been doing a good job. So our chapter died. (TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONTH)
THE GSMOL CONVENTION
Today it is something less than 20,000.
As you may know if you read the VOICE, I attended this years GSMOL Convention as a Delegate at Large. Why you may ask? Because mobilehome owners need to support any organization that promotes their general welfare – in fact the bylaws of GSMOL state their purpose is to promote the general welfare of mobilehome owners. THE GENERAL WELFARE OF MOBILEHOME OWNERS. Actually that is the purpose of CoMO-LAC also. So why are the two organizations so different? CoMO-LAC does not have a lobbyist in Sacramento, nor could we afford one. About 65% of GSMOL’s budget goes to support their office staff, corporate council and lobbyist. Another 25-30% goes to publish the Californian. That doesn’t leave much to support the volunteer network. In fact many volunteers ask nothing of GSMOL and donate both their time and money to help us. I congratulate them. In fact I was one, an Associate Manager for the San Fernando Valley.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that GSMOL should focus most of its resources in Sacramento to formulate new laws. In fact the attorneys at this convention and the one in 2004 stated that California has more laws on the books than any other state. If that’s the case, then how can park owners and managers do their evil deeds almost unimpeded? In fact my experience has shown me that we desperately need help in our local areas.
In July 2004 I submitted a “Recommendations Report” to the Board of Directors of GSMOL asking that the focus of GSMOL be more on the local level. Seven other GSMOL managers contributed to the report—some at the Regional Manager level. Certainly the leadership of GSMOL would listen to such a group. Well the leadership essentially ignored the report! And not one of our recommendations has been implemented. We asked the leadership to share more with us, to be a more open group, to publish Board minutes in the Californian, to have an email network so that active GSMOL members could communicate among themselves. We