Powerless mobile home residents will be forced to move in Lake Worth


Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


LAKE WORTH -- Residents of the embattled Tropical Trailer Gardens mobile home park, who have been without full electricity for three months, got some more bad news this holiday season: They're being forced out by this summer.

What's more, owner Wes Cox is seeking back rent for the months residents lived in the dark after Hurricane Jeanne robbed the 40 trailer homes of power.

The bill, which is almost $1,000 per resident, was sent Dec. 23 and must be paid by Thursday.

"Merry Christmas to the folks at Tropical Trailer Gardens," said attorney Cathy Lively, who is representing 15 tenants for free in a lawsuit against Cox and plans today to file a legal challenge to the back rent.

In a letter this month, Cox told the more than two dozen residents of Tropical Trailer Gardens that they have to vacate the park, west of Interstate 95 on Seventh Avenue, by June 30.

"It is with great emotion and disbelief that after fifty years of Tropical Trailer Gardens operating as a mobile home park ... I have to give this notice," Cox wrote.

Cox plans to turn the park into a vacant lot, according to the letter.

He also demanded back rent for September through December -- a four-month span during which residents withheld the $265 monthly fee because of the broken electrical system. Residents own their mobile homes but rent space.

Lively said she plans to lobby Circuit Judge Kenneth Stern to freeze the back rent request and consider it with a lawsuit filed by tenants seeking damages for the hardship of living without power.

If that fails, Lively said she would defend residents during eviction proceedings.

Bob Phillips received a bill for $710, which was a one-third discount. He also was charged for unpaid power bills from September and October, which brings his total to $930. Phillips, who still has no electricity, said he doesn't plan to pay it.

As Cox is demanding back rent, the park's power lines still aren't fixed. Reached by phone Monday, Cox said full electricity won't be restored. Two trailers don't have any power, according to Cox, while the majority have only partial electricity.

"The problem will be fixed in six months" when the park closes, he said. "Everyone has to get off the property."

In the letter, Cox blames Lake Worth for his decision to shut down the trailer park. Instead of allowing him to keep the current electrical system, Cox argued, the city demanded that he build underground power lines, which he said would take nine months, cause rents to double and require a bank loan he couldn't get.

Replacing the system "would cause considerable hardship on all of our residents," Cox wrote.

The park's electrical system needed an overhaul before Hurricane Jeanne, City Manager Paul Boyer said. As such, a permanent fix -- not a Band-Aid -- was called for, he said. Cox is being fined $200 a day until the property meets city codes, according to an arbitrator's Dec. 16 ruling.

That leaves residents -- many of whom are elderly, disabled or both -- in a state of uncertainty. Sherry Henderson said she doesn't have the money to stay in Palm Beach County.

She plans to move somewhere in northwest Florida, although she's not sure how she'll get there.

"I've been through a lot of things in my life, but never anything like this," said Henderson, who also got a bill for nearly $1,000 in back rent, which she said she can't afford. "I don't know when, where or how I'm going to go. But I've had it with Palm Beach County. It's really for the rich."

Resident Eric Morrison, 34, said he would probably end up living out of his truck. "Every place is too expensive around here," he said.