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Memphis Mobile City Residents Allege Violations of Fair Housing Act

By Eleanor Boudreau

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wkno/local-wkno-974991.mp3

Memphis, TN – As the Mississippi River crested at Memphis, water, brown as dirt, snaked past the roofs of some of the homes in Memphis Mobile City, a mobile home park a few miles north of downtown Memphis. The water sloughed through the park, over fences, and stop signs, and a man-made, cement pond.

Some of the people worst affected by last month's historic flooding along the Mississippi River were Hispanic residents of Memphis Mobile City. Now dozens of former residents are suing the park's owner UMH Properties alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act.

Memphis Mobile City is in a flood plain, so it floods a lot. The park flooded about a year ago, too, in May 2010. The lawsuit was filed after that 2010 flood and the lawyers who filed it are currently in the process of adding 2011 victims.

Osbin Sandoval is sitting in a chair in the office of attorney Charles Blatteis. Sandoval came here with his wife to add their names to the class-action suit. He says his house was totally destroyed by the flood.

Sandoval doesn't speak much English. Like most of the ex-residents of Memphis Mobile City, he's Hispanic, from Mexico. His story echoes the claims of dozens of other ex-residents in the suit.

Sandoval says, in Spanish, that he asked to move his mobile home before the 2011 flood, but he was told only the outright owners could move their homes. Sandoval didn't own outright.

He says he signed a 15 year lease-to-own agreement, then began paying $375 a month for the mobile home, and $325 dollars a month to rent the piece of land beneath it.

I asked UMH Properties to talk to me about some of the things Sandoval and others were claiming about the terms of their leases and the way the trailer park was run, but I was told, "Our company policy is to not comment on pending litigation."

Another one of Sandoval's lawyers, Webb Brewer, says every way he looks at it, the terms of the contracts are bad, because at the end of the contract, all you have is a 15-year-old mobile home and mobile homes devalue almost quickly as cars.

"Quote selling' people a mobile home," Brewer said, "when it is subject to these conditions--particularly that you have to keep it on a rented property for the term of the contract which is up to 15 years, we feel like it is just a really disadvantageous deal for the residents."

The lawsuit is still in the very early stages. In the mean time, zoning regulations from the city of Memphis require that Memphis Mobile City raise its trailers if it builds new, or repairs any of the flood damaged ones on the site.

Translation kindly provided by Michael Hopkins.