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Class Claims Trailer Park Soaked Them

MEMPHIS (CN) - In a federal class action, Mexican immigrants say a Memphis trailer park deceived and exploited them and violated fair housing laws before, during and after the May 2010 flood that devastated the park and cost some of them their trailers and all their "worldly possessions."

The 29 named plaintiffs say the Memphis Mobile City trailer park took advantage of their language difficulties with "deceptive and exploitative consumer practices," by, among other things, financing $30,000 trailers for 15 years and refusing to allow the trailers to be moved until they were paid off.

Only "in the aftermath of the catastrophe" did "many facts come to light about illegal policies, practices, and conditions at Memphis Mobile City," the class claims.

The plaintiffs say the trailer park owners refused to help residents after the flood and did not provide temporary housing, though they promised they would.

Some residents had to sleep on the side of the road until help came from local government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Throughout the ordeal, the management of Memphis Mobile City was uncooperative with residents and government officials, often attempting to bully and intimidate residents to return to their damaged or destroyed homes," the class claims.

Almost all of the residents of the trailer park are of Mexican descent and many have a limited grasp on the English language.

They say defendants UMH Properties, UMH Sales and Finance and Gail Whitten did not tell them the trailer park was in a flood plain and had suffered flooding before.

"Despite this history of serious flood problems the defendants have taken no meaningful actions to protect residents from flooding and do not disclose the problem to prospective residents," the class claims.

After the flood, the plaintiffs say, they discovered questionable business transactions, such as financing trailers worth $30,000 over 15 years, which "causes a consumer to pay exponentially more interest than a loan of a shorter term," which "locks [the residents] into a lengthy and expensive lease commitment."

The complaint continues: "Residents are required to make monthly installment payments for the mobile home and monthly lease payments for the small lot on which the trailers sit. Undisclosed to the potential residents is a vague clause buried in the agreement that prohibits moving the mobile home until the debt has been fully paid. Through this practice, the defendants lock residents into what amounts to a multi-year lease for an almost ridiculously overpriced small lot, in which the rent can be raised unilaterally over and over again through the term of the installment contract. In some instances the monthly pad rental exceeds the monthly payment for purchase of the trailer. The structure of these transactions, combining a purchase of the mobile home with an undisclosed long-term lease obligation, has prevented residents at Memphis Mobile City who were purchasing a trailer that may be salvageable from moving it away from the site where it is likely to be flooded again."

The plaintiffs say the terms the defendants enforce make their "dream and benefits of homeownership ... illusory because the resident will never own the land on which the trailer sits and is under severe restrictions in moving the mobile home."

Plaintiff Raul Gonzalez estimates that it would have cost him $128,500 to pay off the trailer and install it in a new site, but the value of a 15-year-old trailer would not justify this cost.

The plaintiffs say that anyone who buys a mobile homes from the defendants "assumed all the responsibilities of home ownership, but none of the benefits."

They seek damages under the Fair Housing Act, the Tennessee Human Rights Act and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.

They are represented by Webb Brewer of Memphis.

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