Thursday, October 27, 2016

Three Failing Septic Tanks, Raw Sewage Backing Up Into People's Yards Force City To Slap Partial Vacate Order Affecting 12 Families In 64-Unit Mobile Home Park; Park Owner Responds By Refusing To Fix Problem, Abruptly Announcing Plan To Unload Premises, Issuing Eviction Notices To Entire Community

In San Antonio, Texas, the San Antonio Current reports:
  • Residents of Oak Hollow Mobile Park can’t remember when their homes started smelling like sewage.

    “I’ve lived there four years, and then my sisters lived there for at least 15 years before that. It’s always smelled like this, I just never knew where it came from,” said a tenant in his mid-30s, who shares his home with his young daughters on the weekends. “I mostly keep them indoors now.” He asked not to be identified for fear of retribution from his landlord. He says he's already heard about people receiving threats.

    A few weeks ago, the city discovered raw sewage leaking from decrepit septic tanks directly into the mobile park’s soil. One leak was directly underneath a tenant’s house, forcing them to avoid the room above it for months because of the smell. Twelve homes were so foul that the city’s health department was legally bound to tell the tenants, mostly families, to move out and into hotel rooms on the city’s dime–at least until the landlord fixes the problem.

    But the landlord has no intention of fixing his sewage-sodden property. Instead, he appears to be using the city’s emergency action as an excuse to kick the tenants of all 64 units off his Northwest Side property. Some of those tenants, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, say threats from the landlord kept them quiet for years. And now that they've spoken up, they feel they're being punished with eviction.

    On Monday, the residents received a letter from the landlord stating, “The City of San Antonio has condemned the Mobile Home Park and will be giving out notices to vacate."

    The city has done no such thing.

    “We have families that feel as if they are being uprooted by the city,” said Ron Nirenberg, whose District 8 includes the Oak Hollow property. “Really, this is about a mobile home millionaire that has let property go into decay to the point that government has to force compliance.”
    Nirenberg says he initially contacted Mangione after first hearing about the septic tank leaks two weeks ago. When city staff demanded an explanation, Mangione surprisingly agreed that his property was contaminated and uninhabitable and cheerily offered a solution: He’d sell the property.

    The property, located in a section of San Antonio prime for re-development, would likely be an easy—and lucrative—sell. Mangione told the councilman he'd planned on selling it anyway.

    This was not the answer city officials were expecting.

    When the city first decided that 12 of Oak Hollow's homes were too contaminated with sewage to live in, staffers told the tenants that they had a week to move out. Still, they stressed to people that the move to a nearby hotel was only temporary, that it wasn't an eviction, and that the problem would soon be fixed – because in most cases, according to city staff, that's what happens.

    But that's not what Mangione had in mind.

    “The property owner is using this opportunity to further his ultimate goal to sell the property,” said Maria Cesar, communications director for Nirenberg's office.
    According to legal experts, Mangione isn't the first landlord to use city intervention as an easy out.

    “This used to be really common in the 60s, especially with apartment buildings. But it still happens all over the country,” said Victoria Mather, a professor at St. Mary’s School of Law with a background in landlord and tenant law. “When it becomes too expensive for a landlord to fix a problem like this, they sell.”

    A new septic tank could cost upwards of $4,000. Oak Hollow needs at least three. Even if he can't afford to replace the tanks, shouldn’t Mangione at least be reprimanded for ignoring their leaks for years?

    According to Mather, the only way the tenants could legally fight back is if Mangione broke a rental contract that promised maintenance upkeep or specific eviction rules. Aside from that, they have no other protections.

    "You can’t force a landlord to stay in business," she said.
For more, see Landlord Refuses to Fix Raw Sewage Leaks, Evicts Everyone Instead.

See also, City evicting 12 families from homes, citing ‘deplorable' conditions (Families at Oak Hollow Mobile Home Park have 7 days to leave).

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