FACT FINDER: Former Park Tenants Feel Squashed by Legal System

Reported by: Joe Hart
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Updated: 11/20/2012 9:32 am

RENO, Nev. (KRNV & MyNews4.com) - The old  Truckee Mobile Home Park is easy to miss as you pass by on West Fourth Street.  But for those who once lived here, the park, which was tucked away near the banks of the Truckee River brings back fond memories.

"I loved the location.  It was country.  When I looked outside I saw the little bridge.  I saw the river. I saw all the colors," said former resident Leann Gervais.

But ever since the park closed unexpectedly in 2006, Leann has seen mostly pain and frustration.

At the time state law said the park owner was obligated to either cover the cost of moving the homes, or if the homeowners chose, pay them fair market value. And that was supposed to happen within six months, according to Nevada law.

But more than six years later this group of mobile homeowners has yet to receive any compensation from the park's owner, Reno attorney Robert Stitser.    And they say the drawn out legal process has taken its toll.

"I am extremely skinny,  I am extremely stressed out,  I am extremely broke," Gervais told News 4.

Gervais paid $60,000 for her mobile home just six months before the park closed.  But the best offer she received from the owner was $35,000 according to court documents.   Gervais says that amount is well below fair market value, what a typical buyer would pay on the open market.

Other homeowners have similiar stories.

Reshid Yuneli paid $35,000 for his mobile home, the Stitser's offered him $13,000.

74 year old Dawn Sperlin bought her home for $38,000.   She was offered less than $9,000.

"There was no effort ( to pay us fair market value).   They were going to screw us the easiest way they could.  Excuse the expression," Dawn Sperlin said.

News 4 tracked down Robert Stitser, the park's former owner, and we asked him why this case is still dragging on after all these years.

"My side of the story is its all in public records.  The case isn't finished.  I can't help it.  That's the way legal system works."

Glade Hall is the Reno attorney who is representing seven former tenants of the Truckee Mobile Home Park.  He says its not fair that more than six years later his clients are still waiting to be paid what the law says they are entitled to.

News 4 asked Hall if the legal system has let the mobile home owners down.  

"Yes. Absolutely," he said.

Hall says one problem was --- the case started out in the wrong court. Justice court settlements are capped at $10,000, and clearly there was more than that at stake for each of these homeowners.  Even Justice of the Peace Hal Albright admitted during one hearing..."if the amounts are more than $10,000... I don't have jurisdiction , period."    But the case remained tied up in Justice Court for two years.  Albright has since retired. 

When the case eventually made its way to District Court Judge Steven Kosach tried to settle it, issuing an order in December of 2008 calling on the state's Manufactured Housing Division to select a licensed dealer to use all available information to make an independent appraisal.  
But just two months later, In February of 2009,  then acting director of the Manufactured Housing Division, Gayle Anderson introduced legislation to change how values for manufactured homes are determined.  The tenants viewed that as an end run to get around the ruling from Judge Kosach.

"She got the legislature to amend the statute," Hall said.

The law passed, and mobile home values in cases like this are now set by the National Automobile Dealers Association or NADA,which relies on stock figures and does not take local market factors or comparable sales into account.
 As a result NADA's baseline values are often thousands of dollars lower than standard appraisals.

In essence, the judge's order fell flat.

"The statute was not implemented.  The statute was not vindicated in this case," said Hall.

So, was it appropriate for the Manufactured Housing Division to get the law changed after Judge Kosach issued his ruling ? Gayle Anderson , the former acting director is no longer there, and no one else at the agency will comment.   A spokesman did tell us all of their records like email correspondences concerning the new law have all been deleted or thrown out.
So no one will talk.  And the paper trail is gone.

To be fair, state regulations recommend agencies like Manufactured Housing do not keep their legislatives records longer than two years. Staffers say they simply don't have the room to keep all those records around. 

But the case hit yet another roadblock in September, when Judge Kosach retired.  His spot on the bench has not yet been filled.  And whoever does fill it will be asked to issue a final judgement in this case. 
 But even a ruling in their favor may come too late.  These former tenants have seen their dreams of owning a home vanish. Along with their faith in the system.

Former tenant Dawn Sperlin put it this way:
"I always thought in our United States anyone had an equal chance to get justice and we've been kind of smashed down by the system. Or the people that pull the strings in the system."

Its important to point out The Nevada Attorney General's Office says the Manufactured Housing Division did nothing illegal by getting the law changed.
As for where the case goes from here, the group's attorney Glade Hall says he will appeal the case to the Nevada Supreme Court if the new judge does not rule in favor of the mobile home owners.

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