LAYTON — A dispute over management and conditions at a Layton mobile home park has turned into a simmering court battle, with management accusing park critics of defamation.
Operators of Ridgewood Estates, a manufactured housing park near Hill Air Force Base‘s southern entrance, say the criticism hurts the operation’s public image and could hurt it financially. The tenants singled out in the lawsuit reject the charges, saying, in part, that Ridgewood is exaggerating. In a counterclaim, they maintain that they’re within their rights speaking out and complaining.
As the sides, now in mediation, try to sort through their differences, an advocate for mobile home tenants says the tussle underscores the sort of pressure those living in such parks can face from operators. “It falls a little bit in the intimidation category, kind of, ‘How dare you question our business practices,’” said Kevin Borden with Manufactured House Action, or MHAction, which has worked with Ridgewood Estates tenants in their dispute with management.
The Ridgewood Estates residents involved in the tussle took their complaints public last February in response to a sewage backup that started on Dec. 30, 2018, and took three days to resolve. That was among the most egregious issues they say they have faced. They held a public demonstration on Feb. 9 outside the U.S. post office in Layton, airing their complaints. UTLA Ridgewood MHC, the Colorado entity operating Ridgewood through Ridgewood Estates MHP and Impact MHC Management, subsequently filed suit on Feb. 25 in 2nd District Court in Farmington and the case simmers on.
The lawsuit singles out a flier the critical tenants circulated and a Facebook video containing footage of some of them airing their complaints, including charges that Ridgewood reps lied to them. “The publicity casts the plaintiffs in a false light... The false light created by the defendants is highly offensive, or would be highly offensive to a reasonable person,” reads the lawsuit.
Val Moody, a Ridgewood resident who’s helped spearhead the efforts against management, said the legal action “kind of blindsided” the critics. She and five other Ridgewood tenants are named in the lawsuit along with the Utah Coalition of Manufactured Homeowners, which advocates for owners of manufactured and mobile homes.
The sides have been in mediation since at least April to resolve the matter, said Moody, still living in Ridgewood, but things seem to be at a standstill. “What I can tell you about mediation is it’s going nowhere,” she said.
She views the lawsuit as retaliation. “They want to shut us up... We’ve made a stink and they don’t like it,” she said.
UTLA Ridgewood MHC reps didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Ridgewood, located at 2875 N. Hill Field Road, contains some 200 spaces, according to the website for the development, and it’s “currently receiving upgrades.”
BEHOLDEN AND VULNERABLE
Residents in mobile home and manufactured housing parks frequently own the housing units but pay rent to park operators for the space where their structures sit. Their advocates, like Borden, say such arrangements can make park residents beholden to park operators, vulnerable to new and unexpected fees and charges with little recourse to fight them. That sort of relationship, Borden charges, underlies the business model of mobile home park operators.
He steered clear of commenting directly on the Ridgewood court case. Borden took part in the Feb. 9 demonstration, filming some of the residents as they aired their complaints. However, he said he’d like to see more of a global debate on the issue of mobile home parks and the issues surrounding their management.
“How do we really make sure we’re engaged in a broader dialogue across the entire state?” he said.
Mobile home communities “totally make sense” for many reasons, he said. Mobile home parks, by containing many housing units in limited space, represent “good use of land,” he said, and because of their compact size, have less of an environmental impact than traditional housing tracts. They can create tight-knit communities, he continued, and can be more affordable than a standard home, attracting those with limited incomes.
‘I REFUSE TO MOVE’
The sewage backup and the mobile home park management’s response to it plays a central role in the dispute. UTLA Ridgewood MHC, though, defended its “timely response” to the Dec. 30 problem. Plumbers and Davis County Health Department officials responded on Dec. 31 and it was fixed on Jan. 2, three days after it started.
Among other things, the company also takes umbrage with apparent comments from Moody criticizing the number and size of potholes on roads inside the complex. Actually, the suit says, such road problems “were few and far between.”
In its lawsuit, UTLA Ridgewood MHC seeks unspecified damages as well a determination that Moody and the other tenants named in the suit defamed the firm, thus giving it grounds to evict them.
The tenants, in their response, defend their criticism as accurate. In their counterclaim, they say crews from the city of Layton actually addressed the sewage problem, but that it still wasn’t totally fixed as of Jan. 2. They reassert charges about disrepair in the park and seek unspecified costs and funds to cover attorney fees.
Chris Wirt, one of the tenants named in the suit by Ridgewood, remains adamant they are in the right. Still, he’s eager to leave. Moody, by contrast, is adamant about remaining, the strained relationship with management notwithstanding.
“I refuse to move,” she said.