Mobile home residents allege dangerous living conditions, claim harassment
Frontline Observer Staff Report
A group of San Bernardino mobile home residents say they are experiencing unhealthful living conditions, unlawful fees and harassment by the mobile home park’s property management company.
The group, located at Santiago Mt. View Mobile Home Estates, also alleges that some residents ultimately face unlawful evictions as a result of bringing concerns up to management and that even some have abandoned their properties out of fear or frustration.
Arturo Fuentes and his family have lived at the property since 2006 and say they still contend with dangerous living conditions in their home.
“To this day we have raw sewage coming out of our shower and toilets,” he lamented. “Every time this happens, we have to buy bleach and wipe everything down in order to take a shower.” Fuentes said as recently as January he approached the on-site manager with his concerns only to be turned away.
“She told me to call the numbers posted on the window; I told her there were none. When I went back to talk to her she said she wasn’t working that day.”
Such is the angst others in the park have experienced. Fellow resident Zafiro Tellez noted that other problems have been unresolved for years such as sewage pipes that have been left exposed. Another issue is communication. “Property management deliberately takes advantage of the fact that 90-percent of the residents speak Spanish. We’ve been trying to tell them since 2017 to put notices in Spanish so that residents know what is going on.”
Jose Luis Fuentes, a Los Angeles attorney (no relation to Arturo) has represented other litigants connected to the mobile home park. Some tenants, he remarked, are eventually forced out of their units after failing to pay fines connected to toys left in their yards, and untrimmed shrubbery among other trivialities. “They give you these fines then say O.K., you don’t want to pay; we’re going to evict you. It is harassment plain and simple.”
He says he has seen a pattern emerge that is slanted heavily against some residents. “Let’s say you own the mobile unit and are just renting the space.You may very well want to move but it’s not that easy. The park owners not only must approve who moves in but often they’ll tack on multiple improvements the seller must make in order to complete the sale. This can cost anywhere from $10-$50 thousand.” As a result he asserts that many residents feel trapped and that a large part of the problem is the interpretation and ambiguity contained in the California Mobile Home Park Regulations.
One such resident who fled out of frustration, Jeffery Cox, a Highland pastor, lived at the park for six years. He says he finally got fed up and abandoned his property earlier this year. “I refused their offer to buy the mobile home I was renting because it was too high; so next thing you know I got a notice in the mail saying I had 60 days to move out or face eviction,” he said. Cox also noted that when he pointed out the eviction moratorium in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Santiago representative said it didn’t pertain to them and that they could do whatever they wanted. He says he too, spent money repairing his kitchen and flooring because of plumbing issues.
As a result of recent outcry over mobile home resident complaints, California State Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino) launched an inquiry into the mobile home property oversight process. Leyva, the chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Manufactured Mobile Home Communities in July 2020 received a report from the state auditor regarding the inspection process for mobile home park communities. The audit found that the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) failed to reach its inspection-rate goal and that gaps between inspections could pose health and safety to residents due to unreported violations. The HCD also said it could have communicated information better to residents to correct issues and avoid possible eviction.
“Since the completion of the state audit, there have been more inspections of mobile home parks and the development of a better communication process for residents living in mobile home parks. There is significant progress due to the guidance of the state audit, but there is still more work to be done,” Leyva’s Communications Director Sergio Reyes replied in an e-mailed statement. He also noted that Leyva has hosted town-hall gatherings for concerned residents and will continue to follow up on what the senator herself called “disturbing” findings.
San Bernardino First-ward council member Theodore Sanchez--in whose district at least two of Santiago properties sit--remarked that he was unaware of any issues arising out of the mobile home properties. “Trust me. If there is any type of raw sewage in the street or in my district, I want to know right away,” he intoned. “I need residents to be my eyes and ears. They have to speak up. These things they’re saying are very concerning but I can’t help if I don’t know.”
And yet, according to Arturo Fuentes that is also part of the paradox. “People are afraid,” he said. “They think if they complain that they’re causing problems and might get evicted if they say anything. But I have to worry about my family and disabled daughter.” He pulled up a video he took that showed one of the sewage outbursts earlier this year. “How do you think I feel when I have this problem, sewage up to my feet and I have to worry that my kids are going to catch some kind of disease?” he exhorted as he pointed to a screen where sewer water and waste bubbled up from a pipe mere feet from his front door.
Another resident, who feared retaliation and did not want to be identified, told us in Spanish that it was frustrating to get notices and not understand them. “How do they expect us to trim a tree or face fines then only give us three days? They have a sign that says ‘We speak Spanish’ but when the time comes they ignore us.”
Added Cox: “I’m a man of God, so I’m not going to argue with them, but they will see me in court. You don’t do business like this with people.”
When asked about residents’ allegations Santiago Communities Regional Manager Yesenia Macias said she couldn’t comment. She referred us to Community Manager Abby Wittenberg who failed to respond despite multiple attempts to reach her.
According to their website, the company maintains mobile home locations in California, including 10 in San Bernardino County.
Leyva’s office said residents can obtain mobile home assistance information here.