Geraldine and Doug Sporl thought they made a lifetime investment by moving into a mobile home at a West Jordan trailer park.
For almost eight years, they have planted a garden, maintained the structure, reared two children and adopted two dogs. And they never missed a payment on the lot they rented from Brookside Mobile Home Park.But soon they may be forced to leave due to what they describe as a growing trend among mobile park owners to evict "older" trailers.
"This is happening statewide," said Geraldine Sporl, who is the secretary for the Utah Mobile Home Owners Association and who is fighting her eviction in court. "For people who have older trailers, it's like, `Sorry but you have to leave.' And they can't do that by law, so they nitpick to find any reason they think is valid to go to court and get you out."
The Sporls were given an eviction notice after their park management apparently found "weeds and debris" on their yard, Geraldine Sporl said. They also let their children visit the playground without adult supervision.
But like dozens of other Utah mobile home owners, the Sporls believe they are really being picked on because they live in an older mobile-home model that park owners don't want on their property. And as more mobile home owners are evicted by park managements for "unfair" or "no" cause, more take the matter to court.
"I've had calls from all over the state . . . all with the same problems," said George Sample, who helped organize the Utah Mobile Home Owners Association in 1994 and served as president until February.
"There are hundreds that are being evicted," said Russell Cline, who represents the Sporls and at least seven others in similar lawsuits. "People who have been in parks for 15 to 20 years, paid their rent every month and kept the rules, all of a sudden the owners are trying to evict these people to make space for new homes."
Cline said up to 54 eviction notices have been served in single mobile home parks over the past several years. In most cases, park owners allege the mobile home residents have failed to comply with a park rule or to maintain their yards.
But attorneys for park owners deny any allegation that the parks try to pick on the older trailers.
"These allegations are nothing more than that," said Robert Paul-son, an attorney representing, among others, Sunset Vista Estates Mobile Home Park, Magna. "(Park owners) are not in the business of evicting people."
"There's nothing in the rules about the age of trailers," said Vernon Jolley, a Riverside, Calif., lawyer who represents Meadowbrook Village Mobile Home Park, West Valley City. "We want the park 100 percent occupied."
The issue may be compounded by the scarcity of mobile home parks. Since the early '90s, all available spaces in the state's 127 mobile home parks are either occupied or rented by mobile home manufacturers who wish to guarantee a space for their customers, Cline said.
Thus, the nearest place to move for people with used mobile homes is 96 miles away in Evanston, Wyo., Sample said. "No park (in Utah) will accept anything older than a 1990."
There also appears to be much confusion over the Utah Mobile Home Park Residency Act, which was amended during this year's legislative session.
During a meeting attended by about 60 mobile home owners Thursday in Magna, Rep. Lloyd Frandsen, R-South Jordan, explained the background and intent of the amendment he sponsored.
Before the amendment was passed, park owners could evict mobile home residents without notice. But the law now requires park owners to give a 60-day written termination notice when there is no cause for the eviction.
"There was nothing that was taken from the tenant that was already in the law," Frandsen said.
But some mobile home residents said their park managements have abused the law. On May 6, the day after the amendment became effective, 10 Sunset Vista Estates residents were issued 60-day lease-termination notices. At least six other no-cause lease termination notices have been issued along the Wasatch Front since the law went into effect, said attorney Steve Heidt at Thursday's meeting.
"We have called and asked (the manager) about this (termination notices) and her attitude is, `I don't have to give you a (darn) reason,' " said Tony Steadman, a 10-year-resident of Sunset Vista Estates.
But attorneys for mobile home parks say lease terminations usually are given because of rule violations.
"Their (the park owners) goal is to make the community more livable," Paulson said.