Mobile home resident sues Ev-Mar park owners

Woman claims company and movers it hired caused delays and damaged her property


When other residents of the now-closed Ev-Mar Mobile Home Park in Savage talked about buying the land to start their own co-op, and later sued to forestall their eviction, Tracy Hollifield Crowder stood apart.

She did not think the co-op idea was practical, and she believed the lawsuit was wrong, because the land belonged to the owners, not the residents, she said.

"I didn't go to any meetings. A lot of them were fighting over somebody else's property," said Crowder, 45, a school bus driver who said she bought her double-wide unit in 1996 after a foreclosure and in 2000 moved in to get her children into Howard County schools. She remarried last year.

Instead of joining the suit, she accepted an offer from the park owners to move her -- free of cost -- to a new home site she bought from Howard County in the much larger Deep Run Mobile Home Park in Elkridge.

But nothing about the closure of Ev-Mar has been easy.

"They came to me and said if I found someplace else to go, they would pay for all expenses. It all sounded too good to be true," she said.

Now, Crowder -- who said she and her family were forced to live in half of her mobile home without a bathroom for nearly two weeks in September -- is suing Ev-Mar's owners, and the house movers they hired, for $429,000 in Howard County Circuit Court, claiming broken promises and damage to her home. Civil Justice, a Baltimore public-interest law firm that represented the other residents, is also representing Crowder in the suit filed Jan. 6.

The suit charges that the moving day was constantly postponed, and that when it did arrive, her home's roof was damaged in transit and now is spongy. The water heater fell partly through the floor because, she said, the movers failed to empty the water tank. Electrical boxes were left dangling under the home for months, she charged, and the movers never got county occupancy permits for the new site. A county inspector found March 7 that the home was not supported by the right number of concrete supports or properly tied down against wind -- defects that will cost Crowder more to repair.

The charges were strongly denied by Richard J. Eshelman, who arranged the Crowders' move. Walter S.B. Childs, an Annapolis attorney who represents the estates of the late owners, Henry E. and Evelyn G. Meyn, did not return repeated phone calls. The estates, a defunct firm called Mobile Movers Plus and Eshelman's daughter, Krysten M. Eshelman, are the defendants.

Richard Eshelman accused Crowder of sabotaging his firm's efforts to move her, and now of seeking to profit from the situation. He claimed that Crowder's roof was damaged by a tree before the house was moved and that her charges "are just a bunch of garbage." She denied his statements.

The Crowder case is the latest twist in the contentious three-year battle over the Jan. 30 closing of Ev-Mar, one of several older mobile home parks to close for redevelopment.

Ev-Mar's acres are worth $3.6 million to developer Paul Revelle as a site for permanent homes -- with a zoning change. Partly because of opposition from residents, the County Council denied a zoning change in February 2004, and the dispute grew more bitter after that. Ev-Mar was scheduled to close in June 2005, but that was delayed until January by the lawsuits, one of which is pending. Under state law, park owners are required to notify residents of closing at least one year before the event, but not to provide financial assistance.

Howard County government has encouraged redevelopment along the U.S. 1 corridor, but that has caused other problems, such as the elimination of affordable housing in mobile home parks. Most of the mobile homes in them are too old to be moved, and there are few places to move the newer units.

In Crowder's case, county housing officials helped her find a new house lot and provided $2,500 for relocation expenses.

But despite her efforts to steer clear of the controversy at Ev-Mar, Crowder became involved.

The worst of the problems, she charged, came after she gave legal affidavits supporting two other residents who were involved in the suit filed to block residents' eviction.

She said she felt sorry for the two newest families at the park, who had been allowed to place new, $60,000 double-wide units in Ev-Mar when the land's future was uncertain. Now both families are facing possible bankruptcy, saddled with mortgages on homes they could not live in.

"Those two got the raw end of that deal. I was asked questions, and I was honest," Crowder said.

She charged that despite the offers of help from Childs, the movers didn't prepare the new lot to receive her house, forcing her to spend up to $8,000 for the work.

Then Eshelman's movers repeatedly delayed her moving date, even after splitting the house into two halves, she said.

Fearful of vandalism, she and her husband, Raymond, and their two children slept on the floor in one half the house for two weeks, she said, and though the mobile home was finally moved, it was damaged.

"It was just real upsetting," she said of the delays. " I didn't know what to do."

When the house's two halves were rejoined, it wasn't done properly, she said, pointing to a gap in the floor in the kitchen. The roof continued to leak because of nail holes the movers made securing plastic sheeting on the house's open side for the move.

She said she felt Eshelman should pay for a new roof, but he claimed the roof was damaged before the move, which she denied. That's when she decided to sue, she said.

"I ain't worried about the money," she said, acknowledging that while she claims her house is nearly a total loss financially, the unit was moved and she is living in it.

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