For over a decade, the residents of the Easton Mobile Home Park in Easton, Massachusetts fought against the Park’s owner to enforce their rights to live in a decent, safe, and sanitary community. For years, the Park suffered from neglect, including roadways that were filled with potholes and crumbling pavement, a failing wastewater treatment system that released wastewater into residents’ yards and protected wetland areas, a fresh water delivery system that experienced frequent water main breaks, and an ineffective stormwater drainage system. The residents’ efforts recently reached a turning point when a Superior Court judge appointed a receiver to take control of the park.
According to Aylesworth, “The Park had been neglected for years, and the landlord failed to comply with numerous orders by local and state agencies and the courts. We knew something had to be done.” Getting behind the effort, MTM offered to continue its representation of the residents pro bono.
The attorney for the residents is MTM’s own Thom Aylesworth, who took on the representation of the Park residents several years ago. Aylesworth’s work on the case began when the park’s landlord, Easton MHC, LLC, appealed a decision by the Town of Easton Rent Control Board in which the Board reduced the rent charged to the park’s residents. The Board imposed the rent reduction after Easton MHC failed to comply with prior orders to make repairs to the Park’s infrastructure and utility systems. Aylesworth prevailed against Easton MHC’s appeal attempting to overturn the Board’s decision. However, Aylesworth and the Park residents realized that the dispute was far from over, because Easton MHC still refused to make much needed repairs to the Park’s systems for wastewater treatment, fresh water, stormwater drainage, and private roadways. According to Aylesworth, “The Park had been neglected for years, and the landlord failed to comply with numerous orders by local and state agencies and the courts. We knew something had to be done.” Getting behind the effort, MTM offered to continue its representation of the residents pro bono.
At the urging of the Park’s residents, the Town of Easton filed a lawsuit seeking the appointment of a receiver to take control of the park under the court’s inherent equity powers. As a first step, in October 2018 the court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Easton MHC had complied with orders of the Easton Rent Control Board and Conservation Commission to repair the Park’s failing infrastructure. Easton MHC argued it had insufficient funds to comply with the orders because the Rent Control Board had reduced the rent it could charge to the residents. The residents took the position that the rent reduction was an appropriate sanction for Easton MHC’s failure to maintain the Park and was not a legitimate excuse for its noncompliance. Aylesworth called on Park residents to testify about the Park’s substandard conditions and cross-examined Easton MHC’s witnesses. Aylesworth said, “We thought the evidence was overwhelmingly in the residents’ favor.” Nonetheless, in the months following the hearing while the parties waited for the judge’s decision, Easton MHC attempted to close the Park. The residents filed a motion seeking an injunction to prevent Easton MHC from removing the Park’s more than 200 residents from their homes. After several court hearings, Easton MHC finally relented and agreed not to pursue the Park’s closure.
In July 2019, the judge issued a decision and ruled that Easton MHC had not complied with outstanding orders of the Rent Control Board and Conservation Commission. The judge ordered Easton MHC to file a remediation plan with the Rent Control Board within 30 days. In September, residents reported that the Park’s fresh water delivery system was broken and leaking in several locations (a frequent occurrence), causing low water pressure in numerous homes. Several residents resorted to using garden hoses attached to neighbors’ homes to supply fresh water. More than a month later, Easton MHC had failed to repair the water system. On behalf of the residents, Aylesworth filed an emergency motion for the appointment of a receiver based on Easton MHC’s ongoing failure to repair the Park’s substandard conditions and failure to comply with the judge’s order to file a remediation plan with Rent Control Board. Easton MHC initially opposed the residents’ motion but, apparently seeing the writing on the wall, finally agreed to a receiver.
The Park will now be under the control of a receiver. The receiver will have the authority to collect rents and obtain funding to make repairs so that the Park’s substandard conditions are finally brought into compliance with the outstanding administrative orders and applicable local and state laws and regulations. The appointment of a receiver has given new hope to the residents, who are relieved that the condition of the Park’s infrastructure and the health and welfare of the community is no longer in the hands of Easton MHC.
Image credit: Alyssa Stone / The Enterprise