The Maine Manufactured Housing Board has revoked the license of a Richmond trailer park owner and ordered him to pay the maximum fine possible for raw sewage and two other violations that resulted in the temporary eviction of his tenants. It's the first time the board has taken such an action. Russ Edwards is now negotiating to sell the beleagured park to a potential buyer. But as Susan Sharon reports, the tenants are still hoping to take it over themselves.
During a three-hour long hearing, Assistant Attorney General Christopher Mann laid out the unsanitary conditions at the Meadowbrook Trailer Park, involving raw sewage pouring into a nearby brook, and the inability of owner Russ Edwards to provide his 15 tenants potable water when their water was turned off.
"Water was turned off, in part because of the debt for the water bill, and in part because of concerns from the town of Richmond that because of massive water leaks underground, that water might somehow mix with the sewage, tainting Richmond's water supply," Mann said.
Last month, the town ordered tenants evicted for a night while the water situation was corrected. But Edwards was also cited for having an unsecured home on the property. Inspectors say that remains a hazard. And for his three current violations, Edwards was fined $1,500 apiece, despite his repeated claims that he has no money.
Edwards blamed most of the problems on the assistant manager he hired to collect the rents and take over the park last year. "This has come about because an individual has deprived me of my income from the park. All of it," Edwards said. "He had virtual control of the park, used a number of ways to manipulate the tenants there. So I virtually lost contact with the tenants."
But Bob LeClair, executive director of the Maine Housing Board, says Edwards has a history of violations at Meadowbrook that goes back nearly 20 years and includes electrical and fuel storage issues, junk and trash and a previous consent agreement with the board.
"I don't know how many years that we have to give somebody to correct the community to the requirements of the Manufactured Housing Board," LeClair said.
LeClair recommended that Edwards' license to operate the park be revoked, and the board unanimously agreed. Board member Teresa Desfosses says she hopes the revocation of his license and the fines will send a strong message.
"I feel that any manufactured community owner that allows these conditions to exist in a community shouldn't be in the industry," Desfosses says. "It's embarassing to all of us. It's a black mark on the industry and it's a terrible place for the residents to be in, without water and sewage running down the street. It's just not what we do."
"I would like to see the tenants come out in a win-win, be in a better situation, hopefully with a tenants' association and with us all working together to own the park," says tenant Stella Trahan.
Trahan is one of several tenants who wonder what's next. Owner Russ Edwards has identified a possible buyer for Meadowbrook. Richard Breton specializes in turning distressed mobile home parks around. But Breton told the board he might need to evict tenants while he works on making improvements.
And that makes Trahan and others nervous. They are currently working with the Massachusetts-based Cooperative Development Institute to buy the park on their own. Jessica Pooley is a technical assistance provider.
"Cooperatives are all over the place, in food and work, and it gives them purchasing power," Pooley says. "It gives some stability. It allows them to control their lot rents and improve the infastructure, and improve their living environment on their own."
Pooley says CDI can't force Edwards to sell the park to the tenants. But because tenants had a previous purchase agreement with him, she's hopeful that a deal can be reached.
She says the tenants are planning to file an injunction to prevent the sale of their park to a private owner.