Renters face utility shut off

By Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat May 23, 2013 12:30 pm

Columbia Mobile Home Park residents are afraid their sewer, water and power service will be shut off soon because the park owner didn’t pay the bills.

Turn-off notices are posted on the office door at Columbia Mobile Home Park at 22217 Parrotts Ferry Road.

They state that unless park owner Jim Clayton, of Orange County, pays more than $18,000 in back payments, electrical service will be shut off on June 4, and water and sewer services will be turned off on June 5.

Clayton owes Tuolumne Utilities District $17,884 in back payments for water and sewer service and PG&E $935 in back payments for electricity, according to the notices.

“It will absolutely be taken care of before the shut-off time,” Clayton said Wednesday.

“I hope that is true,” Tuolumne Utilities District Manager Pete Kampa said, “but the reason we had to go to this action is because he has told us before that he would definitely be in to pay the bill, and he has not been. That’s what’s so frustrating about it.”

PG&E spokeswoman Nicole Liebelt said she can’t discuss specific cases unless the customer signs a confidentiality waiver. Generally, she said, several attempts are made to work with a customer on a payment plan before disconnecting services.

“That’s our last resort,” she said. “We are very proactive in working out payment plans tailored to their needs, but they must call us and let us know there is a hardship.”

The California Department of Housing and Community Development sent an inspector Monday and Wednesday to make sure everything is working, and the residents’ health and safety is ensured, said department spokesman Eric Johnson.

Johnson said the agency’s staff called Tuolumne Utilities District and was told Clayton said the payment would be there by June 5.

The park is on a well for drinking water, so that should not be turned off unless they lose electricity, Johnson said.

Park residents were supposed to use Tuolumne Utility District’s ditch water for irrigation, but that was turned off several months ago by the managers, said longtime resident Joan Soma. She believes that is related to a repair issue.

 Mobile home owners at the park pay Clayton monthly for their ditch water, sewer, television reception and garbage removal, in addition to space rental fees.

The park was built in two phases. Residents in the second phase pay their PG&E bills directly to the utility. The others — about half — pay Clayton for electricity along with their monthly rent.

Soma said she pays Clayton $31 per month for water and sewer and pays her own electric bill directly to PG&E. 

“We have had different problems with the owner,” she said, “but this is something really big. He has not paid the sewer bill for nine to 12 months, and everybody in the park got a notice that our water and sewer would be shut off June 5 if it isn’t paid. He hasn’t paid the PG&E bill either. How do we know what other bills he hasn’t paid?”

Another resident, Sandi Shepherd, said the manager, Robin Sumerlin, does her best to keep the park nice, but she doesn’t have the authority to do the major repairs which are needed, such as replacing all of the utility lines. Stopgap measures are constantly underway instead.

Shepherd is particularly concerned about elderly residents who will need water and electricity for their swamp coolers in June.

Rosemary Tomai, president of the Homeowners Coalition of Mobilehome Parks of Tuolumne County, said she thinks Clayton will be responsible for putting the residents up in a hotel if the utilities are turned off.

“You can’t expect them to live there without water and electricity,” she said. “Maybe this would give people a chance to sue the park owner and get him out of there.”

“People in the park are upset and worried,” Sumerlin said, “but he (Clayton) told me it would definitely be taken care of before the deadline, and I feel confident it will happen.”