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Thursday, July 22,2010

Mobility Impaired

Manager, residents of local mobile home park at odds

By Jefferson Dodge

There is a motorcycle in the front yard of Tracy Manthy’s mobile home.

This wouldn’t be so unusual, if it weren’t for the flower pot sitting on top of it, the bicycle hanging from the fence nearby, the towering giraffe sculpture or the makeshift scarecrow wearing a tiger mask.

Arranged thoughtfully on two stacked coffee tables are metal pigs, a sideways detergent container sprouting a plant and a giant gold medallion bearing the words Boulder and Colorado. Flanked by sunflowers are a female mannequin head on a stick and a walker that is only big enough for a child.

Manthy sees her sculptures and garden as an exercise of her free expression, but the manager of the San Lazaro mobile home park, Laura Hadaway, wants her to clean up the eyesore, since it is a violation of the terms of her lease. The two are in a standoff.

Also in a standoff with Hadaway is nearby resident Joe Klassen, who rattles off a litany of allegations about the park and its management.

For her part, Hadaway acknowledges that some residents don’t like her because she has to play the bad guy. But she also talks about her passion for the park, where she has lived for almost 40 years, and about the need to maintain the upkeep and appearance of the property, since the value of the mobile homes is the only investment some families have left.

Senate Bill 156, a new law co-sponsored by Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Longmont, and Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, gives residents of mobile home parks more protection and went into effect July 1.

While most agree it was a good first step, a visit to San Lazaro reveals that there is much more to be done when it comes to addressing the problems encountered in a local trailer park, the last bastion of affordable housing for Boulder’s low-wage workers.

“This is the underbelly,” Hadaway says.

 

• • •
Manthy is sitting on her porch, explaining why, after a divorce, she no longer wants to bottle up her creativity and free expression. She wants her children, and other neighborhood kids, to feel free to sprinkle seeds and create their own masterpieces in her front yard, as evidenced by two car tires positioned to resemble owl eyes. Manthy deliberately planted a garden over the front walkway to her porch.

She’s been told for a long time that she’s too expressive.

“I can’t be squelched anymore,” she says. “The garden, for me, is a celebration.”

Her two children, Roxy and Blue, emerge with wavy, unruly blond hair, Roxy with a baby bird in her hands. A ladder stands against the side of the house, so that the children can get on the roof and plant flowers in the gutters. They are accomplished rock climbers, Manthy points out. But she says a neighbor called the cops because her kids were on the roof.

“We have quite the menagerie, in more ways than one,” she says.

Manthy can’t produce a copy of the lease language that prohibits front-lawn menageries like hers. She says she has “chosen not to inform myself ” about the rules.

Hadaway hasn’t removed anything from the front yard yet, Manthy says, but the manager has removed other residents’ property in the past.

According to Manthy and Klassen, Hadaway is known for marching up to front doors, banging loudly on them, cursing and leaving brightly colored warnings on them — and on the windows of illegally parked cars.

“It’s how the Jews must have felt when they got a yellow star on their door,” Klassen says.

Hadaway demands that residents make improvements to their mobile homes and threatens eviction, they say.

It is a neighborhood that is inhabited by Caucasians, some Bosnians, and a growing number of Latinos, many of whom are undocumented immigrants. As many as 17 “illegals” have lived in one mobile home, according to Klassen. Sheriff ’s deputies are a common sight in the neighborhood, which is just outside the Boulder city limits, at the corner of 55th Street and Valmont Road.

• • •

Klassen brings his pack of cigarettes over to Manthy’s porch and the two share a smoke as they sip sodas, mosquitos hovering in the heat.

Klassen, whose rapid-fire, wordy eloquence and eternal sunglasses slightly remind one of Ward Churchill, wears a long, gray beard and a baseball cap that bears several pins. One reads “One shot, one kill.” Another has a bear claw. A third honors prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. He has worked at Rocky Flats and in construction and is now on a fixed income. He also says he has worked at Area 51, but can’t divulge what went on there.

Klassen, who walks with a cane, says he got his disability after being shot in a drive-by in Denver. He lists the unnecessary improvements that Hadaway wanted him to make after moving into his mobile home, improvements that he says were required in a short timeframe, were not demanded of others and were the result of neglect by the previous resident.

Later, on a tour of the mobile home park, he cites alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), pointing out places where sidewalks have crumbled, are blocked by cars or lack ramps, making it impossible for a person in a wheelchair to get around. At Klassen’s insistence, a handicap parking space was created in front of the San Lazaro office, but he has a photo of Hadaway’s golf cart parked in it. He says one in seven of the park’s residents have a disability.

He says inconsistencies and discrimination in how the park’s regulations are enforced and how leases are written are violations of the Fair Housing Act. He lists the American Civil Liberties Union, the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the Department of Justice among the bodies with whom he has filed — or plans to file — complaints. He has presented his case to the Boulder County Commissioners and Sheriff Joe Pelle. He threatens to sue Hadaway and the park’s out-of-state ownership group on a variety of fronts. He drives around the neighborhood taking pictures of violations, and in addition to those photos, he has a recorder full of conversations.

Klassen has concerns that the on-site sewage treatment facility might pollute the middle fork of Boulder Creek, and that the chlorination process used in the park’s water plant isn’t sufficient. He claims Hadaway refused to let him rent the community meeting hall. Klassen also says his mobile home lacks proper plumbing and that he uses the bathroom in the camper on his truck, but Hadaway wants it out of his driveway.

• • •
Back on the porch, Manthy is worried. The owners of San Lazaro, a group called 5005 Properties Inc. that runs mobile home parks around the country, are in town for a meeting with Hadaway, and Manthy knows that she and her eclectic yard are on the agenda. She expects them to come around the corner in a couple of golf carts any minute. But they don’t.

Klassen was encouraged because the owners’ presence meant he could bend the ear of Josh Winter, a legal agent for the company. He says he spent about 30 minutes with Winter, unloading his complaints, and that Winter agreed to help address the concerns.

But Klassen calls Boulder Weekly two days later to report that his little talk with Winter has gotten back to Hadaway, and that she has retaliated by putting a warning on his and his wife’s car, which were parked in the street, contrary to park regulations, for exactly 12 minutes. (Each resident can have no more than two cars, and they must be parked in the driveway.) Klassen has photos of the other residents’ cars that were also parked in the street at the time, but did not receive similar warning tags.

He tours the neighborhood, pointing out the families that have more than two cars and keep them parked in the street.

“We want to have a harmonious, pleasant community where people don’t live in fear of retaliation,” he says.

He cruises past several other car-related violations, his camera phone out the window. Klassen says one local resident who is married to Hadaway’s sister is allowed to park on the street. He points to mobile homes where businesses are being operated, and to landscaping trailers, both of which are contrary to regulations. There are multiple cars parked on lawns, a no-no, and campers just like Klassen’s on top of trucks. A small sign in a window advertises candy and refreshments for sale. Some wooden fences look like they are higher than six feet, a height Klassen says he wasn’t allowed to exceed. Besides, he says, the rules say fences should be chain-link and no higher than 40 inches.

He motions to the mobile home where he claims Hadaway confiscated a bunch of belongings from the yard and kept them in a nearby field. There is a missing San Lazaro sign at the entrance that has been replaced and re-stolen.

And then there is the common area, where the office, swimming pool, mailboxes and storage units are. Klassen points out the barriers to handicapped people, from steps to tall gate latches to a high door slot for residents to deposit rent payments.

• • •
Hadaway seems tired of putting out all of the fires that occur in a mobile home park.

She denies being verbally abusive, but acknowledges that she loses her temper.

“I’m a passionate person,” she says. “I can be pretty abrupt when I get fed up with someone not cleaning up their stuff.”

For her, it’s not just a job. Hadaway has lived in San Lazaro since 1972 and raised two kids there. Before she became manager three years ago, she engaged the managers and owners as an advocate for the residents.

When asked about the new law aimed at mobile home parks, Hadaway says she doesn’t know much about it, other than the legislation didn’t go far enough. She says it should have contained limits on how much an owner can increase the rent, for instance.

“I’ve always viewed the mobile home park like the feudal system,” she says. “If you have a good owner who cares about the property and the people, a good manager who cares about the property and the people, it’s OK.”

But she adds that there are cases where the residents are totally subject to the will of the owner and manager, and abuses can occur. She does not count herself or the San Lazaro owners in those numbers.

Hadaway says the owners hired a consultant to do a study on the disability and access issues Klassen has raised, and while the park is “grandfathered” on some fronts because it was developed before the passage of the ADA, several improvements have been identified and implemented, in addition to the handicap parking space. She shows off the handicap-accessible restroom and doorknobs in the office as examples.

According to Hadaway, the county judicial system is reluctant to uphold an eviction for anything other than nonpayment of rent, so she lets some things slide at San Lazaro, such as the number of cars kept on the street. She has only had one towed, when she couldn’t locate the owner.

“To evict a woman with two kids because of furniture on the lawn, it would be very hard for me to do that,” she says.

But while she might stop short of evicting someone like Manthy, she is vigilant about pointing out violations as they occur. And she insists that she does it without playing favorites or discriminating.

“Everybody gets treated exactly the same,” Hadaway says. “I have a strong ethic of fairness, whether people believe me or not.”

She explains that when she sees a car blocking the sidewalk, she lets the owner know, regardless of who it is. But she probably misses some, which might create the perception of selective enforcement.

“I’m not on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she says.

When asked about the accusations leveled by Manthy and Klassen, she initially declines to comment.

“It would be unethical and unprofessional of me to discuss my situation with Joe Klassen or any other resident,” Hadaway says. “It’s a war I can’t win, because he can say whatever he wants. … I bent over backwards to get him in here, with the understanding that he would do X, Y and Z. He signed a contract he couldn’t fulfill.”

• • •
During the interview, a frustrated man named Boyd stops by the office to complain about his neighbor’s car being parked over his lot line, which has been painted, with Hadaway’s permission, expressly to avoid such an occurrence. Hadaway cautions Boyd not to do anything foolish, like keying the neighbor’s vehicle, then rolls her eyes.

She holds up a stack of paperwork on people who have “problem yards” and displays a map on which she has marked mobile homes where there are vehicles that are unregistered or without license plates.

Hadaway, a former criminal defense attorney who serves on the local board for the National Alliance for Mental Illness, says she is vigilant but compassionate. She offers residents her own personal truck to haul off unwanted stuff. She started an annual community picnic with the sheriff ’s office.

“A lot of my Hispanic people were afraid of the cops because they weren’t necessarily here legally,” Hadaway says.

One resident is in a wheelchair, and she says she only applies “gentle pressure” to get his vehicles registered. Instead of reporting kids who get in trouble to the police, she has them serve community service with her, in one case fixing up the wheelchair-bound man’s mobile home.

Her primary concern, she says, is to keep the place looking good so that property values don’t suffer. And she insists that language in leases is consistent: The company owns the land, and management may enter the property, even a fenced yard, when necessary, such as when it is not kept in “neat, clean, attractive condition.”

“Ultimately, the lease has a provision where we can go in and clean up,” Hadaway says. “What does ‘neat, clean, attractive condition’ mean? That’s a pretty gray area.”

“It’s my job,” she says of her enforcement efforts. “You can’t require people to do something they don’t want to do and expect them to be happy.”

Still, Hadaway acknowledges that being the bad guy gnaws at her sometimes.

“A lot of people think I’m mean,” she says. “It bothers me that people don’t like me; it bothers me a lot.”

As for improvements like the ones Klassen has called for, Hadaway says any investment in the property would likely result in an increase in rent, which she is trying to avoid.

Asked about the meeting room, she holds up a calendar as the only decision-maker, saying it is rented out strictly on a first-come, first-served basis. Hadaway says she knows of no home-based businesses. While leases don’t allow utility trailers or RVs, they are silent on campers, and the owners have allowed Klassen to keep his, she says. Hadaway also maintains that San Lazaro has never had any water-quality violations.

“Most of the people here are good, hard-working people,” she says. “And the owners provide them affordable housing. … If there wasn’t someone here to hold the line for the majority, the homes would lose value, and in some cases, that’s all they have.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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