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Simandle v. Vista de Santa Barbara Associates

November 4, 2009


(Super. Ct. No. 1244763) (Santa Barbara County). Denise de Bellefeuille, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yegan, J.


Ronald Simandle and Warren Simandale appeal from a judgment entered after the trial court found that appellants abandoned a statutory right under the Mobilehome Residency Law (Civ. Code, §§ 798; 798.78, subd. (a)) to sell their parents' mobilehome at the Vista de Santa Barbara Mobilehome Park.*fn1 The trial court ruled that park owner, respondent Vista de Santa Barbara Associates LP, could remove the mobilehome at appellants' expense. (§ 798.78 subd. (b).)

Appellants argue, inter alia, that the law abhors a forfeiture. This is true but the law also abhors a public and private nuisance which, in this case, lingered for months on end. (Civ. Code,§§ 3479-3481; Code Civ. Proc., § 731.) "Every successive owner of property who neglects to abate a continuing nuisance upon, or in the use of, such property, created by a former owner, is liable therefore in the same manner as the one who first created it." (Civ. Code, § 3483.) We affirm.

The Mobilehome Residency Law (MRL; Civ. Code, § 798.78, subd. (a)) provides that an heir who gains ownership of a mobilehome in a mobilehome park through the death of the tenant-mobilehome owner, has the right to sell the mobilehome in situe providing the homeowner's rent, utilities and maintenance obligations arising after the homeowner's death are satisfied until the mobilehome is sold.*fn2 (See Friedman, Cal. Practice Guide, Landlord-Tenant (The Rutter Group 2007) ¶ 11:260, pp. 11-75 to 11-76; 12 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (10th ed. 2005) Real Property, § 782, p. 911.) Section 798.78, subdivision (b) states in pertinent part: "In the event the heir . . . does not satisfy the requirements of subdivision (a) with respect to the satisfaction of the homeowner's responsibilities and liabilities to the management which accrue pursuant to the rental agreement in effect at the time of the death of the homeowner, the management shall have the right to require the removal of the mobilehome from the park." Thus, appellants, and persons similarly situated, have a valuable right. But, like other rights, this right can be forfeited.

Facts and Procedural History

In 2005, appellants (brothers) inherited their parent's mobilehome located at Vista de Santa Barbara Mobilehome Park, Space 35, Carpinteria. Brothers quarreled over the inheritance and let the vacant mobilehome fall into disrepair.

Brothers decided to sell the mobilehome and requested that Park Manager Ruth Bevington inspect it. In a December 5, 2005 letter, Bevington listed what repairs had to be done before the mobilehome could be put on the market.

Brothers did some yard work but failed to correct the deficiencies set forth in Bevington's letter. Bevington testified that the mobilehome and park space were in "really bad" shape. The mobilehome had a broken window, a rotted fence, steps in disrepair, debris and combustible material, a filthy brown ooze running down the front and side of the home, and smelled of sewage.

At Bevington's request, Nick Alexakis of the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), inspected the mobilehome. Alexakis issued a September 16, 2006 report, citing the mobilehome owner for Mobilehome Parks Act (Health & Saf. Code, § 18200 et seq.)*fn3 violations: a rotted deck, steps, and guardrails; a bent carport awning column; a blocked exit door; combustible material behind a shed within three feet of the rear lot line; and electric code violations.

Brothers fixed the code violations but again failed to repair the problems listed in Bevington's letter. On October 19, 2006, respondent served a seven-day "Notice To Correction Violations of Rental Agreement Or Surrender Possession." (§ 798.56, subd. (d).) When no corrective action was taken, respondent served a 60-day notice to terminate the tenancy and remove the mobilehome from the park. (§§ 798.55-798.77.)

Brothers sued for declaratory relief and damages. Respondent filed a cross-complaint for trespass, ejectment (removal of the mobilehome) and declaratory relief.

Michael Cirillo, a mobilehome park expert, testified that the mobilehome was not habitable, had a market value of $13,806, and required $30,000 in repairs before it could be sold. He photographed the mobilehome which showed a wide assortment of electrical, drainage, roof, plumbing, and maintenance problems.

The trial court concluded that any right to sell the mobilehome in the park hinged on brothers' statutory duty to maintain the home in accordance with park rules and the MRL. (ยง 798.78, subd. (a).) It found that brothers had ample opportunity to make repairs but did "literally nothing for over a year to protect and secure their rights in the mobile home space. They had been provided the park rules as well as a copy of the [M]obilehome [R]esidency [L]aw. Their failure to read, let alone abide by the rules, is the source of their loss, not any action by the park." The trial court awarded respondent $400 a month rent plus attorney fees and ...

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