Families fearful of losing homes
The fear and frustration were palpable among the crowd listening to Carlos Garcia, who alternated between Spanish and English while sharing information.
As the night wore on, more neighbors assembled in Garcia’s yard at Skyline Gardens Mobile Home Park, nearly all of them clutching a piece of paper and the envelope in which it arrived via certified mail.
At issue: Mandatory repair orders for the residences, sent by Summit Management, a Stillwater-based company that oversees nine manufactured home communities in Minnesota, including Skyline Gardens.
“My first spring inspection this year was in June,” said Allyssa Hall, who’s lived at Skyline Gardens for three years. “(I was told) to paint my deck and treat my grass for weeds. Then they redid their inspection, and I got a list of 20 new items” to repair.
The apparent difference was a new onsite manager, Hall said. The two inspections were conducted six weeks apart.
“We got this (certified letter) on Aug. 18 and were told that if we didn’t have all of these things done by Sept. 19, we’d be evicted,” Hall said. “It’s a lot of really petty things – and then there are people who are supposed to replace their sidewalk.”
The park owns the land; the residents rent the lots. Some of the residents also rent the homes.
“They can’t make you do things that weren’t in your contract,” Garcia said. “Don’t sign anything.”
One of the repairs Hall and her husband, Jason, were required to make was for a hole in their siding, a hole the size of a 50-cent piece. They were told it needed to be re-sided, with vinyl siding.
The couple admitted their home was “a piece of crap” when they bought it three years ago. They gutted it: wiring, plumbing, “the whole nine yards,” Allyssa Hall said. They installed new siding, floors, and windows, as well. The couple invested more than $40,000 in labor and materials.
“I went through my list and pointed out things that were not on my lease, and (a member of management) blamed it on the Equal Housing Act, that I had to do it because of the Equal Housing Act,” Hall said.
So the Halls read the act, which they described as “about a paragraph long, and just says you can’t discriminate against anybody.”
There were several residents who couldn’t make it to the meeting last week; “a lot of people work second or third shift,” said Jason Hall. Others were unable to leave their homes because of disabilities.
But two people from outside Skyline Gardens were there: Ethan Cords, chairman of the Owatonna Human Rights Commission, and Dan Boeke, Owatonna City Council member at large.
Cords, who was providing contact information for the Southern Minnesota Region Legal Services, said he was there to learn what was going on, “to see if this is actually a case of discrimination.”
“But how do we prove that they’re discriminating against us because we’re poor?” Allyssa Hall asked. “We live in trailers; we pay minimal rent.”
Boeke, however, was more direct.
“It seems to me that this community is being bullied,” he said. “It’s capricious and arbitrary, what they’re doing. It’s just not right.”
Cords said several of the people told him members of management wouldn’t return phone calls or letters.
“Some of the repairs are ‘mow your lawn,’ sure, that’s easy,” he said. “One of them was ‘replace your siding, because it’s two colors, and it needs to be one.’”
“I don’t know what the rules of the homeowners association are, but that seems like a ridiculous expense,” Cords added.
Dennis O’Brien has lived at Skyline Gardens for 15 years; the letter he received required repairs to “holes in my walls, holes in my screens, and a gate on my back porch that needed to be removed, but none of that applied to me.”
Were they at the wrong house?
“I don’t know,” O’Brien said. “I’m going to wait until the 19th and try to catch them when they reinspect, to say ‘what is this letter? I have none of these things.’”
What he does have is a theory: “This is valuable property, this is prime housing up here; ultimately, I think their goal is to get rid of all the trailers and develop it into housing. They’re discriminating against the poor people who have nowhere to go.”
Laurie Hovland bought her home from Summit Management in July 2020. When she received her 30-day notice of repairs, she wrote the company a letter.
“I told them, it obviously wasn’t a problem for you to put it on the market with all these ‘flaws.’ I went out to see if I could handle any of this myself,” she said. “Like the dryer vent. I thought it was supposed to be like that, that’s how it was when I bought it.”
Hovland is looking for a handyman to help with her repairs.
Lindsay Wagner found help at her church. She’s lived at the park for nine years and has never had a list like the one she received in August.
“I had a water main break right next to my trailer,” she said. “They tore out my (garden) beds and left all the dirt. That was two months ago.”
One of the items was to clean up her yard, including the pile of dirt and gravel – left by the management company’s water main repairs.
“It looks the way it does because of them,” Wagner said. “I had to have someone help me shovel it and level it, so I could take care of it.”
Garcia moved among the crowd, looking at letters and suggesting resources for people. He urged the families – there are about 95 families who live there – to stick together and help each other.
“I’m getting more information from neighbors than I have from the people who told me to fix things,” one man said.
Still, Garcia said that though he’s advising residents to contact Summit Management, he’s had no luck with them.
“I’ve called them about 15 times; I’ve sent them e-mails; I sent them a letter,” he said. “Zero response.”
Jim and Megan Jorgensen, who have five children, have lived at Skyline Gardens for about two years. They’re renting their mobile home and have a lease that requires they receive written permission before they hang anything from the walls inside.
“Yet we’re supposed to replace the siding and paint the deck,” Jim Jorgensen said. “At our cost.”
In addition, the letter to their home was addressed to a man who hasn’t lived there for four years.
“It’s amazing how 90% of these violations happened within a month,” he said, referring to the second inspection that led to the significant increase in required repairs.
So what’s next?
“Pray we don’t get evicted,” Allyssa Hall said. “We’re all doing our best. I walk around the trailer park during the day and people are out pressure washing, pulling weeds; we’re trying.
“Live in fear, I guess,” she said.