May 16, 2009
Mobile home tenants sent packing
Septic problems prompt park owner to close down on short notice
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Michelle Martin, with Linda O’Connor, left, expresses her frustration about having to leave Conger’s Mobile Home Park, in Freeville, were the residents are having a neighborhood yard sale to help the moving process.
FREEVILLE — Belongings surrounded Lois Martin’s yellow double-wide mobile home Friday, making a yard sale for a woman forced to move along with her neighbors.
People pulled into Conger Circle to see the kitchen items, children’s items and other things Martin was selling. Drivers looped around the 28 mobile homes in the park off Kirk Road, many of which are empty, past the water-pumping station.
Martin and other tenants at Conger’s Mobile Home Park are being forced to move this month, given notice on April 27 that their landlord, Barbara Conger, needs to close the park because of sewer problems.
Conger also told tenants in a May 8 printed notice that their water is being shut off as of June 1.
Contacted in person at her office Friday, Conger declined to comment.
Tenants such as Martin, her daughter Michelle, Linda O’Connor and Jim Bruno say Conger has broken the law because she did not give them time to move their mobile homes, did not give them leases, and charged them for water when she did not have the right to.
New York’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal agrees. Al Neer, a staff member for that agency, told Conger in a May 7 letter that it appears that she is in violation of state law and could be fined $1,500 per violation.
The Tompkins County Health Department said the park cannot operate its sewer system but has offered Conger ways to have the problems assessed. Tenants said Conger has told them she does not have the money.
Most of the tenants own their mobile homes, but they must find a new place to put them, put down a deposit there and hook up utilities, and pay at least $1,000 to move their homes.
Some of the mobile homes, such as Lois Martin’s, cannot be moved because they are old and are not worth anything. They must be taken away as scrap metal.
“Nobody has any money, nobody knows what to do,” said Michelle Martin, whose trailer is across the way from her mother’s. “I’m not paying my rent this month, nobody is. I might live in my truck.”
Conger’s park also includes six mobile homes on the other side of Kirk Road, and 70 to 80 mobile homes down the road. Kirk Road connects Etna Road to Route 13.
A few tenants, such as O’Connor, have been offered the chance to move their homes to the other part of Conger’s park because they have rent-to-own agreements with her.
O’Connor said she has one year left before she owns her home. She has lived there for three years.
The other tenants are figuring out what to do and how to pay for it. Bruno said he has found a place to live, is going to pay to have his mobile home taken away, and is going to sue Conger.
Bruno said Conger told him that his home was a 1985 model when he bought it, but a dealer said it is a 1975 model, worth nothing.
Neer told Conger that she should give the tenants six months to relocate Neer did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Liz Cameron, Tompkins County’s director of environmental health, said Conger installed a new sewer system last summer but it failed before her department could approve an operating permit. Raw sewage appeared on the grounds of the park.
The system was fixed but failed inspection in April, which is when Conger told her tenants in a hand-delivered memo that she had invested $115,000 in the system and could not afford to repair it.
“We have failing systems in some parks but this is unusual,” Cameron said. “We’re trying to work with (Conger). We want an engineer to evaluate the problem.”
The Martins and O’Connor said the problems started before the sewer system failed, when they discovered they were able to apply for STAR rebates for their homes. They said Conger was told by the county assessment office to provide applications.
They received rebates this year.
“After that, Barbara charged us for water,” Michelle Martin said.
The water bills began in December 2007 for Bruno, in January 2008 for O’Connor and six months ago for the Martins. They ranged from $15 to $21 per month.
Tenants complained to the county, which told Conger she could not charge for water without a meter on each home. She wanted tenants to buy meters for $100 each and for them to pay her son $50 to install them.
“She said my home was using 133 gallons a day in water, but we put in a meter and it said 69 gallons a day,” Bruno said.
Another tenant, Candy Ward, said in an e-mail that she has three children ages 7 and younger and needed a place to live quickly.
“I tried to find a community where I feel safe with my children, and the first one I found called her (Conger) for a reference. She gave a bad reference, saying I am a troublemaker. If I was such a troublemaker, why am I still here after eight years?”
Lois Martin said she must figure out where to move, after living in her home for 19 years, and how to continue a day care business she operates there. She is 71.
She has never had a lease, just a monthly rent agreement. Michelle Martin does not have one either. O’Connor said she has signed leases twice but Conger never collected the second one.
Lois Martin said she asked Conger to buy her home but Conger said it was worthless.
“It will take $4,000 to $5,000 for someone to take it away,” Michelle said. “She’s asking for too much in too short a time.”
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