A wave of dissension has spread through Rancheros Mobile Home Park in San Marcos, pitting owner against tenants and, in some cases, tenants against tenants.
The disputes, which have resulted in lawsuits and countersuits, city inspections and threats of condemnation proceedings, center on the condition of the mobile park.
On one side there are 30 residents, most of them senior citizens, who have filed a class action suit against park owner John Weersing for "letting the park deteriorate."
They say Weersing has harassed them and let their once-beautiful park become riddled with potholes, broken fences, dirty bathrooms and gas leaks. They demand in their suit that he restore the park to its former beauty.
Weersing, who has owned the park since 1979, says the people who are suing him are malcontents bent on taking his property away from him.
"These people are paying $100 less than the others, and you can trace (the reason for the suit) to their desire for maintaining their economic advantage," Weersing said.
"Pure and simple, it's money."
Smoldering for Years
Bad blood between management and tenants has been evident at Rancheros since 1981. That year, tenants went to a city rent review board and fought off a 9.5% rent increase proposed by Weersing.
The owner, contending that the city's rent control ordinance was unconstitutional, sued the city and won.
The city appealed the decision and the issue is still grinding through the legal system.
As a result, residents who have lived at Rancheros since the dispute pay about $100 less per month than newer residents, who pay about $260 a month.
This fact has left Weersing with a chip on his shoulder, said 10-year resident Don McCreight.
"This whole mess started from that point," McCreight said. "All he (Weersing) wants is money."
McCreight and others claim that, since the rent dispute, Weersing has refused to maintain the park.
"The park is just falling apart around us," said Bernice Dean.
"The streets are in bad repair, and there have been gas leaks that appear dangerous," said Dean, who has lived at the park for four years.
Dean said tenants filing the suit are just asking that the place be cared for.
"I would hate to see (Weersing) lose his business . . . . We just want the park maintained," she said.
San Marcos officials, responding to residents' complaints about maintenance at Rancheros, ordered a study two weeks ago to determine if the park exists under "blighted conditions."
Results of the study may be presented when the San Marcos City Council meets Tuesday, Mayor Lee Thibadeau said.
Condemnation a Last Resort
If city officials determine that the park is in bad repair, Thibadeau said, Weersing will be asked to make improvements or face the possibility of condemnation, whereby the city would take control of the park and sell it to residents.
Although he said condemnation would be a last resort, Thibadeau--who over the last three months has inspected the park at the tenants' request--said Weersing must do something to improve conditions.
Weersing "has allowed the park to deteriorate. . . . There are major potholes in the streets that have just been fixed by piecemeal patching," Thibadeau said.
Thibadeau and other tenants added that the park's swimming pool and hot tub are poorly maintained and that the landscaping is a "mess."
Of Weersing's treatment of tenants who are disputing his management tactics, Thibadeau said Weersing "has done everything he could do to harass the tenants."
Thibadeau said that, among other things, Weersing has been restricting the use of a park clubhouse by making residents pay a $75 deposit to use the room.
"Why should they have to pay $75?" Thibadeau asked.
Jim Bemis, a park resident for nine years, said Weersing has also refused to turn on the heat or air conditioning unless there are 15 people or more in the clubhouse.
"We can't even go in there and have a cup of coffee," Bemis said.
A Ghost Town
Tenants like Bemis say Weersing has portrayed them as the "bad guys" to newer residents, saying they are troublemakers who aren't paying their full rent like everybody else.
"Nobody talks to each other anymore . . . This place is like a ghost town," Bemis said.
The owner "has caused a major amount of dissension among the newer and older tenants," the mayor said.
Weersing denies that he has caused a conflict between tenants and said his park is not blighted.
"The tenants are attempting the class-action suit to coerce and intimidate me into selling," Weersing said. "This whole thing is just a battle to take control of the park."
He said park rules have always stated that there a $75 deposit must be paid to use the clubhouse, in case of damage.
Bill Bumgarner, a tenant for four years, said Weersing is a good landlord who is being pushed into a corner by some unruly tenants.
"I've gone to (Weersing) and I've always gotten results," Bumgarner said. "I feel he has been cooperative."
Thibadeau said the battle at Rancheros should have a positive impact on San Marcos' 12 other mobile home parks.
"In the future, owners maintaining parks will be put on notice that they had better be maintained," Thibadeau said.
That may be the future for Rancheros, but Bemis said he doesn't want to wait that long.
"I've had it with this stuff. . . . As soon as all this is over, I'm moving out," he said.