A war is brewing in Salem, Oregon between elderly residents who are feeding stray cats in a mobile home park, residents who want the cats gone, and a property management company that has now decided to impose fines against the residents who are feeding the cats and threatening to evict the seniors for not adhering to the rules of the park.
It is not clear if the rules in the residents lease agreement specifically prohibits the feeding of outdoor cats or not but it appears Commonwealth Real Estate Services based in Portland is claiming residents are exceeding the limit of pets allowed by feeding the cats, an argument that likely would not hold up in court.
At one time the feral colony at Center Street Mobile Park in northeast Salem numbered around 50 and has been reduced to less than a dozen cats thanks to a TNR program started by local animal advocates some years ago. Why after all this time of working in harmony, there is now a major shift in the attitude of residents and property management toward the cats when the project has been so successful is unclear.
The 50 dollar fines has become a common practice with property management companies and property owners (for the last few years at least) as a means of having easier justification for evicting unwanted tenants. The fines are given for things like failure to keep the property clean and presentable and often vague and murky charges that on their own would never hold up in court or be significant enough for eviction. There is no burden of proof required, no judge or jury. Refuse to pay the fine and you will likely be evicted. Pay the fine and you admit guilt and have been given an official warning. 2nd offense, higher fine and 2nd warning. 3rd offense and you are evicted with little chance of recourse.
Lee Sullivan, a double amputee who has lived at the park for 11 years, is worried because she has been feeding the cats. As is Barbara Baker, who said she immediately stopped feeding the cats upon receipt of the notice and paid a $50 fine.
Baker said she is in late-stage kidney failure and can’t afford to be evicted.
Jim Ryan, regional manager for Commonwealth, told the Statesman Journal that the communiques were not eviction notices. He said they were written warnings to residents of the park who were violating the terms of their lease agreements. He said they all have fairly easy remedies.
“Our intent is not to evict, but to get them to uphold the rules that hold up the values of our communities,” Ryan told a local newspaper. “Our on-site managers, who’ve been there a couple of years, have turned the park around, and it’s improved financially and aesthetically the last few years and we’d like to keep it that way. The warnings are very curable with the right behavior. This is about common respect. If these residents comply with the rules, they have nothing to worry about.”
This is a typical scenario using fear and intimidation on those low income or people with fixed incomes who are not able to stand up against unproven charges. Mobile home parks are even worse because most of the mobile home park residents if evicted have no money to move their trailer to another park and must abandon it to the park. The park gets rid of the troublesome tenant, takes ownership of the mobile home, sells it and has a nice big profit in their pocket.
If Commonwealth was smart, they would see the benefit for their business if they took a different route to solve this problem. The answer is simple. Just think of all the good PR Commonwealth could have if they thought outside the box to find a way to keep the remaining cats fed while keeping them out of the gardens of the tenants who do not want them there. Work with community volunteers to find answers, provide tenants with motion activated sprinklers which volunteers might even pay for. It has even been suggested that concerned people outside the park may do a fundraiser to buy the sprinklers. Doesn’t that make more sense Mr. Ryan than strong arming elderly tenants?
Want to drop Mr. Ryan a line?
Commonwealth Real Estate Services
18150 SW Boones Ferry Road
Portland, OR 97224
read more about this case on the Statesman Journal