San Jose, CA—A San Jose jury awarded park residents $111 million, the largest award for a failure-to-maintain lawsuit against a manufactured home park in California history. Previous awards in California cases topped out at $12 million.
The park owner, Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS) is a publicly traded company chaired by billionaire Sam Zell It is the largest park owner in the nation with 140,333 home sites in 379 properties in Canada and 32 states, including four in Minnesota — Cedar Knolls (Apple Valley), Cimarron Park (Lake Elmo), Rockford Riverview Estates (Rockford), and Rosemount Woods (Rosemount).
California Hawaiian Mobile Estates was once a pristine seniors-only park. But conditions began to go downhill in 1997, some longtime tenants said, after ELS took over. Residents formed a homeowners association in 2007 and sued in 2009.
The tenants’ suit described a litany of troubles: Sewers backed up into people’s homes. Brownouts and blackouts were common. Street lighting was inadequate, making it dangerous to go out at night. Homeless people camped out under the clubhouse stage. Water for the entire park of 420 households would frequently be turned off without notice for up to 20 hours at a time
The case highlights what the tenants’ lawyers contend is a common problem — the failure by some owners to maintain their manufactured home parks, which can be seen as cash cows. For instance, ELS was spending between $101,000 and $273,000 on upkeep annually at California Hawaiian but taking in more than $4.5 million every year.