Sale, evictions stir emotion, controversy
By RACHAEL GRAY
Tuesday afternoon at a mobile home park on East Spruce Street, Fredy Morales climbed a ladder and began unscrewing siding.
Morales owns a mobile home he had previously rented to a tenant. He had begun to fix up the home to move back in, but the property the home sits on has been sold to Garden City Community College.
The sale of the property at 1706 E. Spruce St. has gained local, state and national attention as tenants will have to vacate by the end of March. Most won't get to take their mobile homes anywhere, even out of the county.
"I'm just trying to salvage what I can," Morales said. "I'm single. Others don't have it so easy. They have families."
According to Roberto Becerril, city planner, mobile homes have to be built in 1986 or later to be moved in the city.
"In the county, you can obtain a conditional use permit if they are older than 1986," he said.
Mobile homes built between 1975 and 1985 can be moved within the county if the owners get a conditional use permit. But models built before 1975 cannot be relocated, he said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, one mobile home had been moved off its lot.
In February, residents and representative Sam Hermocillo, a spokesman for the group, talked to the GCCC Board of Trustees about the mobile home park issue.
The property had been sold to the college in December and tenants originally had until March 15 to vacate. They now have until the end of the month.
Hermocillo asked if college officials were aware that there were people living on the property when the land was purchased. He also said the community college lacks transparency.
"It may be legally right, but it's morally wrong," he said.
He likened the situation to the forced relocation of Native Americans.
"It reminds me of the Trail of Tears — the movement of people without benefits, representation or compensation," Hermocillo said.
Bob Kreutzer, owner of the property, reported Tuesday that the tenants collectively are $12,000 behind on rent. He also addressed rumors that tenants have to pay $2,500 to have their mobile homes demolished.
"That's absolutely false," he said.
Kreutzer said because of the unique type of property the mobile home park sits on, if a mobile home is moved out, another one wouldn't be allowed in.
"If we foreclosed and forced someone to move, we could never yield any money out of it," he said. "If we continued to believe their word, that they might pay us and catch up, we had the opportunity to make money."
Kreutzer said he had been considering selling the property for three years. He judged that the college was the best potential buyer.
"They indicated they didn't have any immediate use for it, but then long-term could turn it into something like teacher apartments," he said.
Kreutzer said all tenants were notified on Dec. 4, 2012, that the land was sold and deal closed with the college on Dec. 29, 2012.
"We had an understanding that we would maintain possession until March 15," he said. "Well, we decided that March 15 is fast approaching, so we decided to go until the end of March to give them more time."
Legally, Kreutzer said, he was required to give 30 days' notice.
"In our lease agreements with tenants, we only have to give 30 days' notice," he said. "But we decided 30 days wasn't enough and the college was certainly in agreement, so we gave them 90."
Hermocillo and tenants met with GCCC attorney Randy Grisell and board chairwoman Merilyn Douglass last week, according to GCCC President Herbert Swender.
Swender said Tuesday there was much misinformation on the issue.
"We've heard each tenant has been charged $2,500 to move their property. That's just not true," he said.
Swender said the college has not asked for any money from tenants.
"The college has never asked for any money," he said. "People are trying to pit the college against the tenants, and it's just not true."
He also said the comparison between the tenants having to move and the Trail of Tears was disrespectful to Native Americans.
"It's diminishing and devaluing to what their plight actually was," he said.
Swender said the college wants to be helpful, and giving tenants additional time was the way to do that.
"We're sure glad to help in any way we can," he said. "But this has put the college in such a negative light."
Kreutzer said the situation, although a reality, is highly emotional.
"We've really had some great renters over the years," he said.
Since as far back as 1999, from what his records show, the rent on the lots has been the same — $115. He noted rent increases and higher lot fees elsewhere .
"At a convenience store at East Garden Village, there's a sign about a rent increase. It's $205 per month," Kreutzer said.
He said the real reason people are being displaced is because some have not paid their rent. He said he has taken legal action against one renter and it's possible he will against others.
"Several of our renters have done a great job and are current," he said. "It's unfortunate that some of their neighbors are truly responsible for displacing these people, and have taken advantage of the situation by not paying their rent."
Hermocillo and other tenants of the mobile home park declined interviews with The Telegram Tuesday.