Legal services team steps forward to assist trailer park residents; water shut off delayed

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A temporary restraining order filed in Carroll County Municipal Court to delay the shut off of water to residents living in the former Kidder Trailer park was approved Monday, delaying the action for 14 days.
By Nancy Schaar
FPS Correspondent

 

A temporary restraining order filed in Carroll County Municipal Court to delay the shut off of water to residents living in the former Kidder Trailer park was approved Monday, delaying the action for 14 days.

MALVERN – The miracle residents of the former Kidder Trailer park on Citrus Rd. near Malvern were hoping for may be on the horizon.

On Monday, Carroll County Municipal Court Judge Gary L. Willen issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the village of Malvern from shutting off water to the trailer park Jan. 24. The order expires in 14 days, but can be extended.

Attorney Andrew Neuhauser of the Southeastern Ohio Legal Services filed for a temporary restraining order Jan. 18 along with an emergency motion for the temporary restraining order to stop the water from being shut off.

Southeastern Ohio Legal Services (SEOL) attorneys went door to door in the trailer park Jan. 11 inviting residents to attend a meeting Jan. 16 in the First Christian Church on Coral Road.

Twenty-five residents crowded into the room to see if any solutions to the problem would be offered.

Neuhauser and Atty. Michael Harrington explained SEOL would provide free legal services to those that fall within the income guidelines they presented.

The problem lies with the owner of the mobile home park who hasn’t paid the water bill to the village of Malvern in a very long time.  The amount overdue as of Jan. 24 is $15,524.

Part of the problem has been trying to establish who actually owns the trailer park and who is responsible for paying the monthly water bill.

In 2003 Lesley Kidder sold the park to Carolyn and Richard Lawrence.  At that time, Russell and Lois Reed loaned the Lawrence’s $300,000 as a mortgage to the mobile home park.

In 2004, Lawrence’s agreed that lot rentals would be paid to Reed.  There are about 40 mobile homes in the park and only 28 are currently inhabited.  Some of the mobile homes are owned by Reed, many of which are in such bad repair no one can live in them.

In 2007, the Lawrence’s changed the property title and called it the Carolyn M. Lawrence Revocable Trust.   But the fund stopped making mortgage payments to the Reed’s.

Tenants received a letter from Russell Reed in 2016 telling them to send the rent payments only to him.

During the last year or so, the water department of Malvern has been checking all meters and looking for those that need replaced or repaired.  It was discovered in 2017 that the meter for the trailer park was not working properly, according to Village Administrator Marcus Benson.

A new meter was installed.  But the usage was greatly increased over what it had been.  Usage of water in the trailer park went from about 600,000 gallons per month to slightly more than 1,000,000 gallons per month. That raised the water bill to about $5,000 per month.

Reed sent residents of the park a letter dated Dec. 7, 2017, saying the new water meter was recording about 10 times more than it should be.  He felt the bill should not be more than $900 per month.

On Jan. 9, Reed notified residents the water would be shut off Jan. 24 because he couldn’t pay the $15,524 bill.

“Carolyn Lawrence lives in Florida but hasn’t responded to anyone’s attempt to contact her,” said Neuhauser.

Reed told Neuhauser he collects $6,000 a month in rent from the residents and a $5,000 a month water bill is just not payable.

One resident at the meeting yelled out that statement wasn’t true; he knows that Reed receives $9,400 a month on the rentals in the park.

Another resident questioned where the park manager is because Reed hired a park manager.  But the resident said no one ever sees him and he never does anything.  When she asked where the manager is the crowd erupted in futile laughter because they all said no one ever sees him.

Resident Billie Stacy said she called the Red Cross, United Way, the county health department, the Department of Job and Family Services, and HARCATUS.  All of them told her they couldn’t help.

A young mother worried that her child would be taken from the home.  She said there is no way she can move and has nowhere to go.  They will have to stay in the home, even if the water is shut off.  She questioned if children’s services would be at her door taking her child away.

Neuhauser said the residents have options.  He said they can join together and ask a judge to issue an injunction to at least delay the water shut off.   Neuheiser said a judge could appoint a manager or could appoint a receiver to handle the property. Those papers were filed in Municipal Court Jan. 18. The names of nine residents are listed on the suit filed in court.

Attorney Harrington explained that if the judge agrees to keep the water on, the rent could be collected and applied to future water bills.

“It would not pay the past water bill.  That is Reed’s responsibility.  This would be at no cost to any of the residents.  A receiver works for the court. The receiver makes sure the bills are getting paid,” said Harrington.

He explained Job and Family Services would not come get the children, but the park is not going to be fixed over night.  He said this would be short term, but the water would stay on.

Residents questioned Neuhauser about the mobile homes owned by residents.  If the trailers are too old to be moved, and they have to go rent something else, what happens to the trailers?

“They would get scrapped and removed,” said Neuhauser.

Kristina Christie asked the attorneys if there were funds available through any organization that would help to move their trailers. Neuhauser replied he didn’t think there was.

Several residents asked how they could get their own meter, saying they would be willing to do it.  Neuhauser said Russell was very much in favor of that too.

“I live in lot one.  We just put money into our trailer to fix it up. We have cats. Our trailer can’t be moved.  Where are we going to go?  We can barely make it on our income now.  I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.  Where are we supposed to go?” questioned Martha Snyder.  Snyder is listed as one of the plaintiffs in the court action.

Benson explained last week that it was an unusual situation that the trailer park receives water at all since the property was never annexed into the village.  And the village is only responsible for the meter.

The village is not responsible for water lines from the water meter to any of the mobile homes.  That is the responsibility of the property owner, according to Benson.

Several residents at the meeting also said that this isn’t the first time the owner has done such a thing.  They said they had faced shut offs before in years past.

In 2012, water was to be turned off on March 14 but $5,000 was paid on the bill on March 12.  And this was before the new meter went in.  This guy was still very behind in his water bill payments,” said Malvern Mayor Bob DeLong.

County Treasurer Jeff Yeager said the past due property taxes have been sent to the county prosecutor for probable foreclosure action. The total overdue tax bill is $51,399.

Ralph Castelucci, director of Carroll County Environmental Services, said that the average bill per month for the trailer park is $1,198.

“We’ve been putting the sewer bill on the tax bill for years.  We’ve called and called and it still doesn’t get paid.  In May of 2016, $1,158 was paid on the growing debt, but they haven’t received anything since then,” said Castelucci.

The name on the tax bill is Carolyn Lawrence.  The name on the sewer bill is Carolyn Lawrence.  But the name on the water bill for the village of Malvern is Russell Reed.

“This sewer bill represents about ten years of it not being paid.  It’s been an ongoing battle for years.  We’ve tried more than a dozen times to resolve the issue and we get nowhere.  The amount is increased because there are penalties and fees placed on it too,” continued Castelucci.

A hearing set for Jan. 23 on the lawsuit was canceled and rescheduled Jan. 29 at 10 a.m. in Municipal Court.