On the northwest side of San Antonio, a literally smelly controversy has been brewing.
According to multiple news sources, including the San Antonio Current, the owner of Oak Hollow Mobile Home Park has been served a cease and desist by the city.
The order tells him to stop lying to his “tenants.”
The story begins with complaints to the city of San Antonio by residents of the community regarding a strong sewage smell.
“I’ve lived there four years, and then my sisters lived there for at least 15 years before that. It’s always smelled like this, I just never knew where it came from,” said one of the residents, who asked the Current to keep his identity anonymous for fear of retribution. “I mostly keep [my daughters] indoors now.”
Upon investigation, the city found raw sewage leaking from decrepit septic tanks and directly into the park’s soil, including one leak directly underneath a tenant’s home. The resident was forced to avoid one of the rooms due to the smell.
The city determined that 12 of the homes were in such bad shape that the health department was legally bound to alert those living in Oak Hollow that they would need to move out of their home and into hotel rooms, paid for by the city, until the landlord addressed the problem.
What happened next was unexpected by some.
Joe Mangione, the owner of Oak Hollow, sent out a letter to residents with the following message, “The City of San Antonio has condemned the Mobile Home Park and will be giving out notices to vacate.”
According to city officials, they have done no such thing.
“We have families that feel as if they are being uprooted by the city,” said Councilman Ron Nirenberg, whose district includes the Oak Hollow property.
“Really, this is about a mobile home [sic] millionaire that has let property go into decay to the point that government has to force compliance.”
According to Nirenberg, he contacted Mangione after hearing about the sewage leaks over two weeks ago. When Nirenberg and city staff demanded an explanation for the situation, Mangione offered an unexpected response.
He agreed his property was contaminated and uninhabitable – and that he’d sell it.
“The property owner is using this opportunity to further his ultimate goal to sell the property,” said Maria Cesar, communications director for Nirenberg’s office.
(Editor’s Note: as Richard Nodel’s comments below suggest,
most MH Community owners do not operate in this fashion.
For an example of a different experience, click here.)
The Daily Business News has attempted to reach Mangione for comment, and has not received a response.
The Current reports that after reaching the staff at Oak Hollow, they were told that Mangione would not return calls until he got a lawyer.
According to Victoria Mather, a professor at St. Mary’s School of Law with a background in landlord and tenant law, the use of city intervention as an “easy out” isn’t unusual.
“When it becomes too expensive for a landlord to fix a problem like this, they sell,” said Mather.
“This used to be really common in the 60’s, especially with apartment buildings. But it still happens all over the country.”
Mather also told the Current that the only way residents could legally fight back is if Mangione broke a rental contract that promised maintenance upkeep or specific eviction rules. “You can’t force a landlord to stay in business,” said Mather.
Rumors, and the nationality of the tenants, provide an additional twist to this story.
“We are not taking your home away from you and we are not going to take our eyes off this situation,” Nirenberg told a meeting of the residents.
Rumors were circulating that the city was going to evict all of the tenants and that they were being punished for reporting the sewage leaks. Nirenberg had to speak slowly enough for a staff member to translate.
Many of the park’s residents are Hispanics, and only understand Spanish. Several claimed that the threat of being reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was a common threat used by Mangione to keep them quiet.
MH Industry Voices Sound Off on the Issue
Karl Radde, General Manager of Southern Comfort Homes and a long-time board member of the Texas Manufactured Housing Association, said, “My very basic initial take at this point is that it seems to be a situation where a city is wanting an owner to repair infrastructure and for reasons unknown from this [local news] article, the owner isn’t or hasn’t,” said Radde.
“However, as what is many times missing from these kinds of [local news] articles is the degree of failure and what the remedy would be,” Radde stated.
“Certainly, like the Austin gardening plots conundrum, some things at first glance reading seem to be very good and simple ideas or solutions,” Radde, who has worked with manufactured home communties, said. “In this case however, IF, the city is saying the repair is to dig up the old system, have hazmat crews remove the contaminated soil within three feet around the distressed area, pay exorbitant fees to have it disposed of at a recognized contaminated soil disposal site, and then install On-Site Sewage Facilities (TCEQ’s hundred-dollar word for septic system) that may not physically be possible in the space allowed; then they may as well be condemning it, just not going through the condemnation process.”
An MH Community Owner with Texas Properties Views
“I doubt that my reaction is different from anybody else reading this,” said Richard Nodel. “It is just another classic example of a slum landlord taking advantage of people that because of their position are either afraid to speak up or can’t afford to move.”
Nodel also spoke to the perceptions that hurt the manufactured housing industry.
“People on the bottom rung of our economic ladder in effect become hostages to the place they live, no matter how miserable it might be,” said Nodel.
“It’s very easy to take advantage of people like this. We have several properties that are blue collar, family parks. We believe that they are entitled to the same safe, healthy environment as those residents in our fancy resort properties.”
The Daily Business News will continue to follow this story, and will provide an update if Mangione and/or his attorney provide comments. ##
(Editor’s Note: as stated on the complete commentary from Karl Radde, linked here, were provided prior to additional information and sources on this developing story came to light. His qualified comments above still apply to this or similar situations.)
(Image credits are as shown above.)
Submitted by RC Williams to the Daily Business News for MHProNews.