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Mobile home parks are often cited as the last remaining affordable housing in cities with rapidly rising rents, like Fresno. From a lethal fire to evictions, residents at the La Hacienda Mobile Estates have been on the brink of losing their homes – and possibly falling into homelessness – for nearly three years.

by Pablo Orihuela | Source

La Hacienda Mobile Estates — formerly known as Trails’ End Mobile Home Park — has gone through more than just a name change. Residents of the now half-empty mobile home park have been fighting to save their homes going back to 2021, when an accidental fire sparked a series of events.

Residents of the beleaguered La Hacienda mobile home park in northeast Fresno have just finished going through two more proceedings this week in their years-long battle to stay in their homes.

A proposal to close down La Hacienda Mobile Estates mobile homes was rejected by the Fresno City Council last Thursday, after members drew criticism to park owner Harmony Communities’ management of the park.

The Mobilehome Park Rent Review and Stabilization Commission held a hearing Tuesday to reject a substantial rent increase application by Harmony, after an initial hearing over the matter took place on Nov.14.

La Hacienda Mobile Estates — formerly known as Trails’ End Mobile Home Park — has gone through more than just a name change. Residents of the now half-empty mobile home park have been fighting to save their homes going back to 2021, when an accidental fire sparked a series of events.

How did this all begin? The below timeline describes the key events throughout the last nearly three years of a tumultuous residency at the park.

Jan. 22, 2021: A lost operating permit
The Trails’ End Mobile Home Park loses its operating permit due to major habitability issues dating back to July 2020. At that time, California’s Department of Housing and Community Development handled all mobile home code enforcement.

Fresnoland discovered through documents obtained via public records requests that the park’s habitability issues were reported to HCD on multiple occasions as early as February 2019.

April 29, 2021: A lethal fire
A fire breaks out at night at Trail’s End Mobile Home Park. Ronald Richardson, a 56-year-old resident, dies in the fire, which damaged two mobile homes. The Fresno Fire Department determines the fire broke out while someone was refueling a generator while it was still running.

May 7, 2021: City officials say they were in dark about park problems
In the aftermath of the fire, HCD and the City of Fresno discuss how to bring the Trails End Mobile Home Park up to code or potentially closing it down. City officials were unaware of the issues at the park, including its suspended operating permit, until after the fire had occurred.

“Code Enforcement had no knowledge of problems at the park going back at least two years,” City Attorney Doug Sloan wrote in an email to Fresnoland. “Nothing.”

The park had been owned by trustee Joan Kavorkian since 2010.

May 26, 2021: Fresno leaders take control of mobile home parks
Mayor Jerry Dyer and Councilmember Garry Bredefeld introduce a $300,000 proposal, the Mobile Home Parks Act, to bring Fresno mobile home parks under local control.

The stated aims of the act is to benefit residents and prevent miscommunications between state and local agencies, which the city says occurred for this incident.

“I believe a government that is closest to the people is going to be more responsive…because people in our city feel more comfortable coming to city hall than they do to any state agency that may be in Sacramento,” Dyer said.

Dyer had also previously stated,“[Fresno] should not be reliant upon outside agencies to enforce certain types of laws in the city that might have an impact, a negative impact, on our residents..It is incumbent upon the local jurisdictions to make sure that [residents] are living … quality housing, and that .. safety standards are being met.”

June 9-11, 2021: A second fire stirs up an ‘army of inspectors’ from city
A second destructive fire at the Trails End Mobile Home Park occurs — six weeks after the first fire.

“This location is a problem for our city. The fire department has been there 10 times in the past year,” Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis said about the Trails End Mobile Home Park.

HCD Codes and Standards Deputy Director Kyle Krause says he expects a quick transition to give Fresno authority over local mobile home parks by the end of June.

Fresnoland attempted to contact Trails End park owner Kevorkian multiple times. Kevorkian’s voicemail did not allow for messages, and she could not be reached for comment. Kevorkian had not responded to past requests for comment.

Although tenants were not supposed to be charged rent since January — the date Trails’ End Mobile Home Park’s operating permit was suspended — Kevorkian was still collecting rent. The practice was illegal, but the city said they couldn’t do anything about it.

“Unfortunately, that is a civil matter,” Krause said. “It would require [a park resident] to initiate civil action to challenge [the] unlawful collection of rent during the period while the permit is suspended.”

Summer 2021: Residents begin fighting back
Tenants at the park form The Trails End United for Change community group. The group retained California Rural Legal Assistance for legal services.

CRLA attorney Mariah Thompson said they had been in communication with Kevorkian’s lawyers, who say that the landlord has not been collecting rent, but that some tenants have continued to occasionally send payments.

CRLA demanded the city take action to abate the nuances as quickly as possible because, according to Thompson, under Health and Safety Code 18402, the city does not have to wait for HCD’s approval on legal action.

Late June 2021: The city takes over enforcement responsibilities
The City of Fresno gets state approval to take over enforcement of health and safety codes at local mobile home parks on Wednesday, weeks after the city passed the Mobile Home Park Act.

The city’s takeover of code enforcement at mobile home parks comes at a time when City Council passed a motion to set aside $100,000 of the 2022 fiscal year budget for a study on the conditions of local mobile home parks.

Around 30 Fresno firefighters, code enforcement inspectors and police were at the Trails End Mobile Home Park to begin inspecting the park where fires have destroyed five homes, killed one person and hospitalized two others.

“This mobile home park is an absolute disgrace for the City of Fresno,” Mayor Dyer said. “There is feces scattered throughout the property, we have shanties that have been built, we have homeless squatters that are living on the property and we have conditions that are very similar to what you would see in a third world country. These issues have been unaddressed.”

The city plans on taking abatement action at the park as soon as code enforcement is able to do so, according to Dyer. Thompson said abatement will require a civil suit against the property owner.

“[The city] can’t simply go into the park and start taking things out,” Thompson said. “They are required by law to bring civil action against the owner so we are hoping the city will move forward with that. That is what our clients have been asking [for]. It is our position that the city is obligated under the law to do so.”

Councilman Bredefeld said if the property owner does not work to correct the issues, the city will file for a receivership.

Mayor Dyer said it may be determined that some residents will not be allowed to continue to live in the park under the current conditions.

“The absolute last resort is for us to do anything that is going to displace people from their residence,” Dyer said. “But we do recognize there is always a potential that there are going to be conditions that exist within a particular home that causes it to be unsafe for them.”

July 1, 2021: City abates trash in deal with park owner
Fresno city code enforcement, fire and police officers discard trash and fire hazards at Trails’ End early in the morning after the city made a deal with the property owner to take abatement action without going to court.

In the agreement, the owner — now listed as George Santikian — states he does not admit any liability by signing the contract. The agreement also states that the city will not seek reimbursement from Santikian for any abatement action done between July 1 and August 31.

The city says they may still seek a receivership if additional issues at the park are not addressed, Camarena said.

Nov. 10, 2021: The California Receivership Group steps in
The California Receivership Group— based in Santa Monica — is appointed by the Fresno County Superior Court to “abate the dangerous substandard and nuisance conditions” at the Trails End Mobile Home Park.

City officials requested a receiver take over the park in September.

“Our goal, under the judge’s order of appointing us, is to make this place safe and habitable for the people who live here,” said Mark Adams, president & CEO of the receivership group, during an inspection of the mobile home park.

CRLA attorney Thompson says the residents she represents were always in support of a receiver, but they have expressed concern about the California Receivership Group’s recent actions at a mobile home park in San Joaquin County.

According to court documents, the California Receivership Group quickly determined that they would be unable to fix the dilapidated mobile home park in Stockton while residents were present. The group filed an order for the court to vacate the park, alleging that most of the people residing at the mobile home park would not qualify for relocation fees. According to their court filings, the receivership group proposed relocating all residents into motels before determining who had tenancy rights.

Trails End Mobile Home Park tenants begin to worry the same mass relocation scenario might happen to them.

“There’s not going to be wholesale evictions here under any circumstances,” said Mark Adams, President of the California Receivership Group. “I’m not trying to evict people — is the bottom line. I’m trying to make it safe for them to live here.”

Feb. 1, 2022: Family of slain resident sues
The family of Ronald Richardson sues the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, owner of the Trails End property and the California Department of Housing and Urban Development, who, at the time of the April 2021 fire, were responsible for the code enforcement of the mobile home park.

The complaint, filed Jan. 27, 2022, alleges wrongful death, negligence, premises liability and a survivor claim as reasons to take action against the city, county, state and the property owner.

March 2022: Residents begin to fight sale of park to Harmony Communities
Residents of the Trails End Mobile Home Park vote to become the first mobile home park community in Fresno to implement a rent control committee in more than a decade, using an ordinance the city adopted in 1988 that hadn’t been enacted in years.

Creating a rent control committee is one of the steps Trails’ End residents are taking to protect themselves against a looming sale of the park to Harmony Communities, a property management corporation with a history of steep rent increases and strict policies that can lead to evictions.

Residents say they are opposed to the sale of the park to Harmony Communities. Dozens of Trails End residents also signed a petition to stop the sale and for the court to allow them to form a cooperative and purchase the park, but a judge had already approved a working contract with Matt Davies, the president of Harmony Communities, to make repairs to the park.

A group of Trails’ End residents, represented by CRLA, demand the city step in to stop the sale to Harmony Communities, citing past promises by Mayor Jerry Dyer and Councilmember Garry Bredefeld to protect the mobile home park back when the fires took place.

Around 30 residents of the park showed up to the Fresno City Council meeting March 24, 2022, pleading with council members during public comment to oppose the sale of the park.

“The judge in this case does not respond to the City of Fresno, we are not the ones that give direction to the judge, we don’t give input into the legal proceedings,” Mayor Dyer said. “And the reason we did that at the very onset was to take politics out of the process.”

The city could, however, still submit an opposition to the sale because they are a party in the lawsuit in which they requested the California Receivership Group be appointed to fix health and safety violations at the park.

“The city is absolutely in a unique position to influence the court,” said attorney Mariah Thompson.

May 6, 2022: Receiver begins demo work at park
The California Receivership Group begins to tear down extensions to existing mobile homes. The group argues that these extensions were added without a permit.

Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan said on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, that Trails’ End residents who applied for permits for unpermitted structures by April 22 were allowed 60 days to obtain the permits before work contractors could tear it down. For everyone else, the structures can be torn down.

Judge Kapetan determined that the California Receivership Group has the right to destroy add-ons to existing structures that have not obtained proper permits and approvals, and violate safety codes.

CRLA attorney Thompson said 17 residents sought permits by the court’s April 22 deadline. However, even those who applied for permits were not guaranteed to receive them in time. Many tenants are also struggling to meet permit regulations since their landlords are unresponsive and uncooperative to calls.

May 11, 2022: Sale to Harmony Communities approved
Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan approves the sale of La Hacienda Mobile Estates to Harmony Communities for $1.7 million despite months of protests from residents and another potential buyer.

Culver Kapetan said no “viable proposals,” other than Harmony Communities, had been submitted to the court before the May 2 deadline before making the announcement.

The judge rejected alternative proposals from Trails End United For Change including a plan to purchase the park to be run as a cooperative. Park residents had also hoped that the non-profit Caritas Corporation would make a bid to purchase the park.

Mark Adams said he would have “entertained” the offer had Caritas made one; however, as noted by Caritas, a final offer had not been made at that time.

Thompson said Trails End United for Change asked the City of Fresno to purchase the park and then sell it to Caritas to allow the corporation more time; however, the city decided not to act on the sale.

Adams said that the receivers do not plan on filing any evictions in the time they have left at Trails End. However, once Harmony Communities officially takes ownership and begins charging rent, they may file for evictions as they deem necessary.

Summer 2022: Residents say they are being told to leave
Several tenants swear in declarations to the court that employees of Harmony Communities and the California Receivership Group have told them that their homes will be demolished anyway, so they should leave before they are forced out.

Several residents in La Hacienda mobile homes also said that they have been approached by the receivership group, asking the residents how much it would cost for them to “voluntarily” move out of the park. One resident allegedly accepted a cash-for-keys offer of $2,400, but later said they felt they had no other choice in the matter and wanted to stay at the mobile home park.

In response to a court inquiry on whether his organization was offering cash for keys, CEO of the California Receivership Group Mark Adams acknowledged that there have been conversations regarding “relocation services,” but there have been no formal agreements or eviction notices.

Thompson said the formal process of offering relocation services has not been followed.

October 2022: Evictions announced at La Hacienda mobile homes
About 26 Trails’ End tenants received 60-day eviction notices on Oct. 6. The notices tell tenants that they’ll face eviction unless they follow new rules set by Harmony Communities.

Tenants who choose not to follow the rules will have to either remove their mobile home from the park or sell their mobile home within the next 60 days, according to a letter signed by Judy Tsai, attorney for Trails’ End.

The decision to begin eviction proceedings was cleared in a ruling by Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver-Capetan on Sept. 29. The ruling also formally ended the receivership of the park held by California Receivership Group since Nov. 10, 2021.

Trails’ End residents have argued that the rule enforcements are unofficial evictions since the new rules make some practices that had been standardized under the old ownership illegal.

Many tenants made it clear that they don’t have anywhere to turn to, since families tend to live together in the mobile home park, and they can’t find anywhere else in the city to live in at a similar price. Homelessness feels like an inevitability.

March 2023: Residents fight evictions
The residents at La Hacienda Mobile Estates (owners changed the name in the proceeding months) have begun to receive eviction notices.

A spokesman for Harmony Communities stated in an email on Jan. 25 that “all evictions are for ongoing health and safety violations that pose a threat to the community.” The company says the evictions are based on the report commissioned for the court by the court-appointed receiver, Mark Adams of the California Receivership Group and because of an agreement with the city of Fresno.

It was later revealed that the Harmony spokesperson who released that statement, whose name sounds like sexual innuendo, doesn’t exist.

Harmony lists non-payment of rent as cause for eviction, but residents say they aren’t allowed to pay their rent.

La Hacienda residents who received eviction notices say Harmony’s agents continually either refuse to accept rent payments or return all rent payments in the three months since rent was reinstituted.

“I take [my rent] down every month. They bring it right frickin back – the same money order,” said Patricia Shawn, one of the La Hacienda tenants. “They’re not accepting my rent, but in the lawsuit papers today, I found out they’re trying to charge me $10 a day from Nov. 1 of last year…I got a bill for $900 for three months of rent…I was like ‘wait a minute, but I paid that. …you guys aren’t marking it down when I turn it in.”

CRLA is challenging the legality of Harmony’s new rules in a different lawsuit.

April 2023: Park owners tell residents La Hacienda mobile homes will close
Residents of La Hacienda Mobile Estates all received a notice on Friday, April 14 from Harmony Communities that the park is set to close in 12 months, ending their tenancies.

Harmony Communities cites the park’s issues as the primary reason for its closure.

“We have come to the sad realization that the structural issues facing La Hacienda have created a situation in which it makes the most sense to close the park,” wrote Harmony Communities’ chief operating officer Sherrie Johnston in an April 17 email to Fresnoland. “While unfortunate, sometimes land uses become obsolete and must be repositioned for the betterment of the entire community.”

Harmony’s future plans for the park land include “listing this property right away and seeking out either a developer partner or an outright sale to someone with the vision to re-concept this land in a way that is more compatible with the surrounding community,” according to Johnston.

Nov. 17, 2023: Fresno City Council rejects park closure proposal
Fresno City Council unanimously rejects Harmony Communities’ proposal to close down La Hacienda mobile homes during their Nov. 16 city council meeting.

Some council members also directed criticism at Harmony over their management of La Hacienda, in a sudden pivot from the council’s long standing attitude of not influencing the ownership of the park.

Councilmember Miguel Arias drew attention to promises made by Harmony when they initially took charge of La Hacienda — promises he said the company broke by pursuing “aggressive evictions.”

“For me it seems, the only purpose is for them to set up an argument that the park should close to prevent losses,” Arias said, “while intentionally rejecting revenue from tenants who could be paying.”

Councilmember Luis Chavez also said the eminent domain option was back on the table for La Hacienda.

Nov. 21, 2023: Rents raised by $24.92 for La Hacienda tenants
The Mobilehome Park Rent Review and Stabilization Commission unanimously rejects Harmony’s application to raise rent by $350 at La Hacienda in a 4-0 vote during a hearing on Nov.21.

Harmony’s proposed hike would’ve more than doubled the rent paid by at least some residents. Park residents and operators have said tenants typically pay around $300 per month, though Harmony has said some tenants pay a little more.

Harmony argued throughout the hearing that the rental increase was necessary to keep the La Hacienda mobile homes from closing down, and that they were also in their right to do so as an investor looking to recoup money on their investment. Dilday told the commission that the park should get an increase close to the proposed $350.

Commissioner McCulligh rejected the request, however, saying an experienced company like Harmony should have known the risks when they took over the property in October 2022.

“Any business owner knows going into buying something that there is going to be risks involved,” said McCulligh.

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