On April 12-13, “A widespread and deadly tornado outbreak affected the Southeastern United States,” says Wikipedia. There was a “total of 140 tornadoes touched down across 10 states, inflicting widespread and locally catastrophic damage.” Structures of all kinds were damaged or destroyed, among them were mobile and manufactured homes.
Among the impacted locations on April 12 was the Auburn Hills Mobile Home Park in Ooltewah, TN, near Chattanooga, TN.
On April 23, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office arrested Kimberly and Steven West, then managers of the Auburn Hills Mobile Home Park, on charges of theft some $60,000 and criminal conspiracy to commit theft about $60,000, said WCTV. NBC 3 WRCB in Chattanooga provided this video report.
“Residents at the park had filed complaints with the sheriff’s office, claiming the management was withholding funds intended to go to the tornado victims who live there,” stated WTCV. “Kimberly West was later arrested a second time and charged with two felony counts of coercion of a witness.”
According to the company’s website, the community is owned by RKW Investments, 3000 Town Center, Ste 540, Southfield, MI, operating under the name Rolo Management LLC. The 35 acre property has 116 home sites, was built in 1955 and has a reported 89 percent occupancy. However, the lawsuit noted that a defendant was AuburnMost Property, LLC and shows the registered agent for service as CT Corporation System, in Knoxville, TN. The firm’s website featured this next video.
Resident Hilda Yanes stated that the Wests thwarted some help from the community following the tornado, this in an alleged effort to hide health code violations. Open sewers under some of the factory-built homes was cited as an example.
Yanes also alleges that the Wests accepted donations from local churches, the community, and the Red Cross, which the Wests purportedly pocketed instead of giving the funds to residents.
Claims vary per sources, but the number hovers around $60,000 worth of donations.
A lawsuit has been filed by attorney C. Mark Warren of the Warren & Griffin PC firm on behalf of residents that states in part, “In addition, for those residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the tornado, the defendants demanded May rent be paid immediately or face deportation.” As the video reflects, several of the resident appear to be Hispanic.
In the 7 page lawsuit and related documents found at this link here, Yanes asserted that the Wests threatened to charge double the rent for anyone who allowed other families to shelter with them because of tornado damage. Yanes further claims that the Wests refused to pay for her damaged home under the terms of their insurance contract. The lawsuit calls for a trial by jury and $4 million in damages.
On June 6, 2020 the Chattanooga Times Free Press journalist Rosana Hughes reported that “Recently, the Wests sent a letter to residents announcing a plan to bulldoze 21 homes in Auburn Hills on Saturday morning, “despite the lack of adequate notice to the residents or orders of eviction from any court,” reads a 43-page civil law enforcement complaint filed by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery in Hamilton County Chancery Court on Saturday morning. The letter sent to residents and obtained by the Times Free Press states that property management would begin the demolition within 48 hours and to “please make sure to remove all of your belongings.”
The same source stated that, “The [Tennessee] Attorney General’s complaint says it aims to “restore some modicum of decency to the operation of Auburn Hills and the treatment of its residents,” according to the AG Slatery’s complaint.
The state Attorney General’s (AG) complaint named Logan Most and Ronald Weiss as owners of the company that operates the land-lease community. The filing reportedly alleges that the defendants deprived and continue to deprive the residents of basic needs and “disregard their fundamental human rights” by subjecting them to “years of verbal, emotional, and financial abuse, and in at least one instance, physical abuse.”
“Defendants shout and curse at the residents, terrorize them daily with incessant patrolling, display weapons to them, repeatedly fine them [in cash], threaten to call the police or immigration authorities and extort significant amounts of money or property from them, while depriving them of basic life necessities such as adequate shelter and peace of mind,” according to the TN AG’s complaint. “Most of the residents of Auburn Hills are very vulnerable, speak little English, have little money and are unable to defend themselves from these atrocities. But they are human beings, and good humble people at that, who deserve a safe and decent place to call home.”
The Times Free Press said that a 43-page temporary restraining order has been approved by a judge. It cited the following.
— Offering or providing lease or financing arrangements that were in violation of federal law.
— Telling residents that the Wests had to first approve the sale of mobile homes or other personal property owned by residents.
— Telling residents that rent and other payments could only be made in cash or money order.
— Telling residents that rent or other payments were not received when in fact they had been.
— Telling residents that temporary housing would be provided after a natural disaster when it was not.
— Telling residents that property tax payments would be applied to property tax obligations when that didn’t happen.
— Telling residents that the Wests have special connections to law enforcement or threatening to turn residents in to federal immigration authorities in order to coerce compliance from residents when that was not true.
— Withholding legal documents that residents were entitled to receive, including leases and vehicle titles, and providing English-only versions to residents who speak little to no English and barring the help of an interpreter.
— Using eviction notices as routine correspondence to coerce more payments than what was required.
— Failing to repair mechanical, structural, or other problems affecting the health or safety of residents.
— Withholding donated emergency, medical, and food supplies after a natural disaster.
The order bars the alleged action and appointed two receivers to assume full control of Auburn Hills and its operations and the assets of the defendants for purported violations of state and federal laws.
MHProNews Analysis and Commentary
It bears mention that the Times Free Press previously reported on another case of rent-to-own or lease-to-own related abuses. See the prior report linked below.
Several of the individuals involved continue to ‘educate’ community owners for practices that attorneys and public officials have stated are violations of the law. See a report linked below for more details.
MHProNews is not giving legal advice but is providing coverage along with a commonsense warning to legal and ethically-minded professionals that is based upon years of such reported occurrences across numerous states. Despite what some ‘educators’ claim is legal, public officials are repeatedly treating RTOs and “lease options” as disguised credit transactions that fail to meet legal requirements.
The tornado related report linked below also bears mention.
MHProNews monitors and periodically reports on such troubling cases, as the first link below the byline and other referenced above reflects. That’s a wrap on this installment of manufactured housing “Industry News, Tips, and Views Pros Can Use” © where “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (Affordable housing, manufactured homes, reports, fact-checks, analysis, and commentary. Third-party images or content are provided under fair use guidelines for media.) (See Related Reports, further below. Text/image boxes often are hot-linked to other reports that can be access by clicking on them.)
By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – for MHLivingNews.com.
Tony earned a journalism scholarship and earned numerous awards in history and in manufactured housing. For example, he earned the prestigious Lottinville Award in history from the University of Oklahoma, where he studied history and business management. He’s a managing member and co-founder of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com. This article reflects the LLC’s and/or the writer’s position, and may or may not reflect the views of sponsors or supporters.
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Recent and Related Reports:
The text/image boxes below are linked to other reports, which can be accessed by clicking on them.