Some San Jose residents of a mobile home park have won a huge verdict against the owner for its failure to maintain the property. This is the largest such award for a failure-to-maintain lawsuit against a mobile home park in California. If the verdict is allowed to stand, 61 tenants in the park could receive $100,000 each in compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages for $1.57 million each.
The trailer park has had problems for years. The sewage backed up, there were frequent electrical blackouts, the park’s swimming pool was filled with geese droppings, and there were numerous potholes. Artificial lakes on the property became slimy. Inadequate street lights made it dangerous to walk outside at night. Homeless people camped out under the clubhouse and walked around the park. The water for the entire park would often be turned off for up to 20 hours at a time.
According to residents, the park was at one time a tranquil senior community. However, when the current owner, a publicly traded company, took over in 1997, conditions began to go downhill. Residents made complaints but nothing ever happened. Finally, in 2009 a group of tenants sued the park over the damages. The management company soon began sending out threatening letters, and about half the tenants who originally sued dropped out.
After the lawsuit was filed, some problems were fixed. However, many were not, including the unsafe electrical system. The trial showed that the defendant spent somewhere between $100,000 and $274,000 each year to maintain the property, although it took in $4.5 million a year. The park had 420 homes, each of which paid at least $800 a month to rent the space, in addition to utilities, property taxes and mortgages. The residents who wanted to leave were often unable to sell their homes because of the bad reputation of the park. Fortunately, if the verdict stands they will be able to afford to leave the park. However, the defendant has vowed to appeal the ruling.
Under California law, California landlords have a duty to keep any property that is rented to tenants habitable. The landlord must perform maintenance and make repairs which are necessary to keep the property habitable. This includes waterproofing the house, keeping the plumbing, gas, heating and electrical systems in good working order, keeping the buildings and grounds clean and sanity, and maintaining the floors, stairways, and railings. Tenants have responsibilities too, including taking reasonable care of the property and common areas. Tenants also have a duty to keep their units clean and sanitary.
If the landlord fails to meet its responsibilities, the landlord can be held responsible for damages, such as occurred in this case. Before filing a lawsuit, tenants should notify the landlord of their complaints to see if an amicable solution can be found. Tenants may also consider making complaints to public housing authorities, or if finances allow, finding another rental unit somewhere else.
At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that landlords have a duty to make their property habitable for tenants, and if they fail to do so, they should be held legally responsible. Micha Star Liberty of Liberty Law, a personal injury attorney, can help you if you are a tenant of an apartment complex, trailer park, rental house, or another rental property, and the landlord has not been properly maintaining the property. Liberty Law works with clients throughout Oakland and the San Francisco Bay area, including Fairfield, Tracy, Concord, Antioch, Hayward, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Sunnyvale and Vallejo. Call Liberty Law at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000.