ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MR. STANTON HAS BEEN A PRATICING ATORNEY SINCE 1982, AND HAS BEEN REPRESENTING MOBILEHOME RESIDENTS AND HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATIONS AS A SPECIALTY FOR OVER 20 YEARS. HIS PRACTICE IS LOCATED IN SAN JOSE, AND HE IS CURRENTLY THE CORPORATE COUNSEL FOR THE CALIFORNIA MOBILEHOME RESOURCE & ACTION ASSOCIATION (CMRAA)
Mobilehome residents have long believed that park management has a legal duty to take action against park residents who violate park rules or disturb the occupancy of others. A 2005 ruling by the California Court of Appeal confirmed this to be true, and created a valuable new precedent that residents can use to force management to do its job.
In Joel Andrews v. Mobile Aire Estates, which arose in Los Angeles County, mobilehome residents sued the park owner for breaching their rental agreement. They alleged that the park had failed to take action against a troublesome neighbor who lived next door. Over the course of 30 months, a series of altercations had occurred between the residents, resulting in approximately 50 calls to the Covina Police Department. The plaintiffs also sent numerous “resident objection forms” to management, alleging that the disruptive tenant had splashed mud on their newly washed cars, aimed a video camera into their living room, subjected them to racial slurs and once tried to run them over in his car. The dispute eventually resulted in a physical altercation and assault and battery. Truly this had become a nightmarish situation for the residents. Despite all of the police calls and objections, the park took no action of any kind against the “bad tenant”.
Finally, plaintiffs filed suit against both the “bad neighbor” and the park owner. The trial court ruled that the park owner could not be held liable, and that the rental agreement imposed no duty on the park owner to take action. The court believed that the stated policy of the park owner was the proper policy; i.e. not to allow onsite managers to become involved in tenant/neighbor disputes due to the potential for danger, and that they should tell residents to “call the police” in those situations. The park’s rental agreement contained the following language: “THE PARK IS AN AVERAGE RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOOD, IT IS NOT PERFECT. WE WILL TRY TO MAINTAIN THE PEACE AND QUIET, BUT THERE MAY BE TIMES WHEN WHATEVER WE DO WON’T WORK. WE WILL DO WHAT WE CAN IF YOU CANNOT GET OTHERS TO UNDERSTAND YOUR COMPLAINTS.” The plaintiffs appealed.
The Court of Appeal overturned the lower Court, and ruled that the park owner could be liable for failing to protect is residents as required by law and the language of its own rental agreement. The Court ruled that every mobilehome tenant is entitled to the “quiet enjoyment” of the premises which he or she occupies. This covenant protects a tenant from any interference with tenancy rights. The Court also held that the park owner had breached its own rental agreement by failing to “…do what we can…” The park owner was held to be contractually obligated to make a reasonable effort to maintain the peace and quiet of the premises as agreed upon in the rental agreement. The Court’s ruling is best summarized as follows:
However, resort to law enforcement is not the issue here. A mobilehome park owner cannot disregard conduct by a tenant upon the park premises that constitutes a substantial annoyance to other homeowners or residents. Faced with such a situation, the covenant of quiet enjoyment requires a reasonable response by the landlord, which may include conducting an investigation and thereafter taking appropriate action, which may include the issuance of a warning to the offending party, the pursuit of injunctive relief against the tenant to enjoin the violation or, if necessary, the commencement of eviction proceedings.
This case represents the first reported appellate decision that imposes such a clear duty upon a park owner. It was unsuccessfully opposed by the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association (WMA), which tells us how important park owners thought this case was. You can bet that the park owners will now be advised to revise their leases and remove any language which states that the management will take any measures to control abusive neighbors. But the “cat is out of the bag”, and residents can now cite the Andrews case whenever management is being requested to take action against an abusive neighbor.