Welcome to The Home Equity Theft Reporter, a blog dedicated to informing the consumer public and the legal profession about Home Equity Theft issues. This blog will consist of information describing the various forms of Home Equity Theft and links to news reports & other informational sources from throughout the country about the victims of Home Equity Theft and what government authorities and others are doing about it.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
After Having Their $111 Million Jury Award Kiboshed, Lot-Leasing Homeowners Settle For Just Under $10 Million In Lawsuit Against Largest Nat'l Mobil Home Park Landlord For Its Failure To Properly Maintain Premises
In San Jose, California, The Mercury News reports:
Of all the horror stories about poor maintenance at the California Hawaiian mobile home park in South San Jose, David McIntyre’s is arguably the worst: The software engineer was evicted on Christmas Eve after complaining that an avocado tree growing underneath his South San Jose mobile home had burst through his shower wall.
But McIntyre and the other 60 residents of the California Hawaiian Mobile Home Estates who took the rare step of banding together in 2007 and suing the corporate owner in 2009 got justice last week, in the form of settlement checks. McIntyre’s was for $460,000, enough to overcome the stain the eviction left on his credit record.
“It was nine years of hell,’’ McIntyre said, “but I can finally buy a house.’’
The case highlights what the tenants’ lawyers contend is a common problem statewide — the failure by some owners to maintain their mobile home parks. At California Hawaiian, residents say they were plagued by sewage backups, potholes, electrical blackouts and a swimming pool filled with goose droppings. Water for the entire park of 420 households often was shut off without notice for up to 20 hours at a time, they said.
In 2014, a Santa Clara County jury found the owner negligent and awarded residents a record $111 million in compensatory and punitive damages. At the time, the award represented about 10 percent of the assets of the owner, Equity Lifestyle Properties, the largest mobile home park owner in the nation.
But the judge in the case overturned the award on the grounds it was excessive, prompting the parties to settle in December for just under $10 million to avoid a second trial on damages. The plaintiffs agreed to settle partly because a third of them are 65 or older and five already have died since the suit was filed, said Jim Allen, one of the residents’ lawyers.
Equity, a publicly traded corporation chaired by billionaire Sam Zell, said in a written statement last week that the settlement was in the best interests of the company, which denied wrongdoing in the case.
The California Hawaiian award sent shock waves through the industry, prompting park owners throughout the state to improve conditions, including at California Hawaiian itself, said David Semelsberger, another lawyer who represented the residents’ group.
It also may have kicked off a trend. In August, a San Diego County civil jury made another sizable award, giving the first 10 of many households in the Terrace View Mobile Home Park about $58.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages against the park owners, Tom Tatum and Jeff Kaplan. The case, which is on appeal, involved accusations of unreasonable rents and other practices causing residents to lose their homes.
[A]ccording to a report by state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, many managers at California’s nearly 4,600 mobile home parks continue to threaten eviction without cause. Residents have also reported that some managers refuse to explain unusual charges on rent statements.
Many residents are leery of suing because they can be held individually liable for the owner’s legal costs, which can total millions. In the California Hawaiian case, more than 150 residents dropped out of the case after receiving letters from Equity reminding them of their potential liability. But a core group of residents stuck together because they said conditions were so intolerable.
“We never got into the lawsuit for the money,’’ said Ruben Castillo, one of the main organizers. Castillo, a dental technician, says his marriage fell apart because he spent so much time on the suit. His share, $210,000, will go primarily to paying off debts, he said.
Tenants gathered to receive their settlement checks Thursday at a pizza and spaghetti dinner buffet the lawyers held at BJ’s Restaurant in San Jose. The amounts ranged from about $25,000 to hundreds of thousands, depending on how long the tenants lived in the park and their living conditions. But the mood was more subdued than celebratory, perhaps because the group already held a celebration party after the case settled in December, and because the money won’t go far in pricey Silicon Valley.
Gary Stutzman, 62, who lives on less than $2,000 a month, got a check for nearly $160,000, not quite enough to fulfill his dream of living on a houseboat. He complained for years about water from one of the park’s artificial ponds lapping right up against the house, causing one corner to crumple and the driveway to be laced with cracks.
“All of this pain we went through,’’ he said, “if it helps other people, it was worth it.’’
Other plaintiffs, like George Stagnaro, plan to move out of state for the cheaper cost of living. McIntyre, the guy whose mobile home was ruined by the tree, says he’ll never live in a mobile home again. Over and over, the park owners who rented him the land the tree grew on denied responsibility, he said.
“The next time a tree grows through my house,” he said, “at least I’ll know who is responsible.”
CBC News: Betrayal of Trust (A CBC investigation reveals how lawyers across Canada have misappropriated and mishandled clients money, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, or sometimes even charging vulnerable people top dollar for shoddy services)
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