Alice Norton, a 73-year old resident of Seaside Mobile Estates, stands on her patio with a handful of her neighbors. A look of grave concern is drawn on her face.
Seated nearby is attorney David Brown – also a Marina city councilman – who has come to hear her out.
Norton is facing eviction from a home she inherited from her mother and the park’s owners have been refusing to accept her rent check since spring. She owns the home itself, but not the land it sits on.
“I’ve just never had anything like this happen to me in all my life,” she says, holding back tears. “I don’t want to lose my home.”
The ostensible reason Norton faces eviction is for several trivial violations of the parks rules – artificial plants in the car port, something related to the paint job of the trim, which looks fresh, nice and is not chipped. They are rules that may not be even be legal.
“Mobile home residency law requires just cause for eviction,” Brown tells her. “If these are trivial violations, or which aren’t addressed in reasonable regulations, then the landlord is not supposed to prevail.”
But Norton and her neighbors say the real reason she’s being singled out is because she has a single-wide trailer, as opposed to a double-wide, and therefore the landlords can’t charge as much rent. If she were to be evicted, they say, her home would be sold off and removed and the landlords would replace it with a double-wide trailer, sell it and charge higher rent.
“It’s a cash cow and then some,” says fellow resident Dorothy Somerton.
Norton’s eviction hearing in Monterey County Superior Court is scheduled for Nov. 13, and while the outcome of her case remains unclear, she is at least lucky in that she has an attorney (Brown will be representing her pro bono).
Glen Watkins is manager of Seaside Mobile Estates, which his family has owned for nearly 40 years. He says they’ve been trying to work with Norton for months on her alleged violations, but they haven’t been addressed.
“We’ve done all we can,” he says. “We do have an obligation to the rest of the residents of the park.”
He says he doesn’t want to put Norton out on the street. She says she has nowhere else to go.
Their standoff sheds light on what Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, says is a larger statewide problem. Stone points out that while there is a state law to protect mobile home residents, there’s nobody to enforce it, and if a mobile home resident has a dispute with their landlord, the only recourse is to sue them – an unlikely proposition for low-income residents.
“It’s a real mismatch,” Stone says.
Stone introduced a bill this year to address that. AB 1269 would have required every mobile home resident to pay $10 annually into a fund that would pay for a dispute resolution process for mobile home residents that would take place outside of the courts.
“The bill was trying to level the playing field,” Stone says.
The bill passed through both the State Assembly and Senate, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it on Oct. 14. In a statement explaining the veto, Brown wrote that it lacked an adequate fee structure.
Stone is puzzled by that, because he says the bill would have had no fiscal impact on state agencies. He has reached out to Brown’s office to better understand the governor’s concerns, and says he plans to introduce a similar bill next year.
In Norton’s case, she’s fortunate to have neighbors helping her, like Michelle Neubert, who filed court papers in September, before Brown got involved.
“I love mobile parks,” Neubert says. “Everybody watches out for everyone else.”