A landlord for several Klamath properties has been convicted of a misdemeanor charge related to not providing clean water to tenants in the Arbor Glen Mobile Home Park in Klamath.
Some of those tenants said the charge was a slap on the wrist and some still do not trust that their tap water is safe to drink.
Fred Stockett pleaded "no contest" to a violation of mobile home activity in October and was sentenced to six months probation and a $620 fine - much less than would have come from conviction on the felony charges of grand theft fraud and elderly abuse that now-suspended Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander leveled against Stockett in August 2012.
Acting District Attorney Katherine Micks said that there was "insufficient evidence of criminal intent" to prove the felony charges brought by her former boss and that "it was more appropriate to charge the more specific law violation."
Alexander had argued that Stockett had defrauded his tenants by charging rent and leasing space for mobile home owners without providing potable water, as required by law. Alexander also said the conditions had deteriorated to a point to justify a charge of elder abuse for the senior residents of the facility.
In late June 2012, the water source serving Arbor Glen was switched from the time-tested, state-certified Redwood Park Community Services District, which the park had used for 40 years, to a private well located next to Arbor Glen without state permits of approval.
Park residents reported an unannounced shut-off of the water, and when taps started flowing again, the water appeared discoloredwith a putrid smell and an off-taste.
Prompted by resident complaints, the state tested the water days after the source was switched and the results tested positive for total coliform, an indicator of contamination. Following the tests, Stockett sent notices to his tenants instructing them to "BOIL YOUR WATER BEFORE USING."
Since residents were not notified of a switch to the water source immediately, many used the water during the first week of July and stated that they contracted illnesses from using the contaminated water.Ailments included a fungus on a tenants' hands and face, a severe ear infection, diarrhea, vomiting, and general nausea.
Arbor Glen's water source was re-connected to Redwood Park CSD last March, but the California Department of Housing and Community Development required Stockett to install 3-inch PVC pipe in the park in order to provide for the legally required amount of water pressure. Once the piping was installed and tests submitted to the state showed the water was safe, the license to run the park was reinstated May 10.
Civil case continues
Although the criminal case against Stockett has ended, there is an ongoing class-action lawsuit against Stockett with 67 tenants listed as plaintiffs, including 25 children.It seeks more than $8.7 million for negligent maintenance of premises, negligence resulting in physical illness, breach of warranty of habitability, maintenance of nuisance and fraud.
The tenants are being represented by attorney Robert Black, whose office also represents the City of Crescent City and other local public districts.Black's office took the case on a contingent-fee basis.
The lawsuit details the several months that tenants went without potable water and the illnesses related to the contaminated water.
Dozens of tenants reported suffering diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps and skin rashes, and an infant developed thrush, a yeast infection of the mouth, the lawsuit states. One tenant was twice sent to Mad River Hospital for elevated blood pressure from the stress of the living conditions, according to the complaint.
In addition to the non-potable water and illnesses related to it, the tenants' class-action case also lists sewer seepage and lack of sufficient garbage collection as reasons for the units to be deemed "untenantable." Raw sewage consistently backed up into yards and sometimes even into residents' bathrooms, becoming another threat to the health of residents, the lawsuit states.
Garbage collection had previously been provided by a large trailer that was known to attract bears, had high walls that were difficult to toss garbage over, and was "unpredictable, unreliable, and unsanitary," the lawsuit states.
Numerous structural hazards are also listed in the complaint including walls rotted to the point that they are "soft enough to push through with your hand," floor vents with "holes so large that the children can stick their feet in them," holes covered by wood boards, an awning over a porch missing supports and being held together with duct tape, sagging ceilings, rotted walls, mold problems, and cockroach, ant or flea infestation, the complaint states.
Waiting for resolution
Tenants reported that garbage service has improved with Stockett emptying cans that were provided to tenants on a weekly basis.
But several tenants are hesitant to use their tap-water for anything more than taking showers, flushing toilets and doing dishes.
Black said he hopes the case will be resolved by settlement or court trial next year for what he calls a contractual claim for an "atrocious failure to provide habitablehousing."
Reach Adam Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org .