Mobile home park refunds ordered

July 10, 1994|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Sun Staff Writer

A Harford Circuit judge has ordered the former owners of an Edgewood mobile home park to pay nearly $43,000 in refunds to 75 tenants whose rights were violated in 1987, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. has announced.

Judge William O. Carr issued his written judgment for damages last month and ordered the defendants to pay the state nearly $16,000 in civil penalties.

The defendants, Donald G. Betz of Phoenix and his son, Steven J. Betz of Baldwin, both in Baltimore County, could not be reached for comment. Court records say the Betzes owned Advance Mobile Home Corp. and operated Magnolia Estates for several years before they decided to convert the rental property to a condominium facility in 1987.

Judge Carr ruled that the two violated the state mobile home parks law when they stopped offering one-year leases to their tenants. The judge also ruled that the defendants illegally tried to terminate the leases of 13 residents without giving them reasons or sufficient notice.

Judge Carr said the Betzes missed the point of the law in claiming that no one was harmed by their actions, because the residents would have been harmed had they not sought legal counsel to protect their rights.

Mr. Curran said in a written statement that "it is essential for mobile home park residents to have the security of a one-year lease in light of the extremely limited space in mobile home parks."

Residents who don't have such security, he said, often must bear the expense and difficulty of moving their homes, assuming they can find space at another mobile home park.

In determining restitution, Judge Carr said the former owners had collected $190 a month in rent from each of the tenants from April 1, 1987, until the park went into receivership in June 1987. He ordered the Betzes to return the money they collected for those three months to the 75 residents.

The judge ruled that the maximum civil penalty -- $1,000 per violation -- would be excessive and that Steven Betz was subordinate to his father in operating the business. Donald Betz was fined $100 each for 75 instances of failing to offer one-year leases, as requested by the tenants and as required by state law, and $250 for each of 13 improper evictions, or $3,250. The judge fined Steven Betz $50 for each lease violation, or $3,750, plus $100 for each of the 13 eviction violations.

Steven Sakamoto-Wengel, an assistant attorney general who prosecuted the case, said there could be more than 75 residents who lived at the mobile home park in 1987 and who might be due damages.

People who lived there in April, May and June 1987 and have moved, or anyone with a complaint against Magnolia Estates should send his or her current address to the Attorney General's Office, Consumer Protection Division, 200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore 21202, or call (410) 528-8662, Mr. Sakamoto-Wengel said.

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