A Baytown family facing eviction from their mobile home park even as they prepare for their 2-year-old son’s open heart surgery got a reprieve Wednesday when Justice of the Peace Lucia Bates dismissed the eviction lawsuit filed by the owner of the park.
According to Blanca and Blake Bobo, the trouble started last summer when their son’s cardiologist and pediatrician told them that their child needed the home kept cold, since his heart and lung problems caused him to get overheated.
Since their mobile home’s air conditioning couldn’t keep the home cold enough during the heat of summer, they bought two small window unit air conditioners to supplement the central air system to meet the needs of their son, Owen.
About a month later, a letter went out to all of the residents of the mobile home park saying that window unit air conditioners were prohibited.
Blanca got letters from two doctors attesting to the medical necessity of the air conditioners, and went to the park’s office to ask to keep their window units as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A day later, park management told her she would have to move out.
That was followed by a letter telling them to vacate, and finally an eviction lawsuit in early December. The mobile home park refused to accept further rent payments for the space.
Blanca, who lived in the home before they were a couple, has been in it since January of 2010, when she agreed to purchase the home from Graciela Donan, who owned the home but no longer lived in it. Since then, Blanca has paid the rent on the space and made payment to Donan. The home remains in Donan’s name pending final payment.
John Tortorice, owner of Pecan Grove Mobil Home Community, filed the December eviction lawsuit against Donan rather than the Bobo family.
The family’s plight was publicized in local media in December, and came to the attention of State Rep. Briscoe Cain, who is an attorney with Fulton Strahan Law Group of Houston. He volunteered his services to represent them in the case without charge.
Before Judge Bates called for the case to be heard Wednesday morning, Cain spoke with Tortorice, trying to settle on a new lease.
“If we get them to agree to a better lease for y’all, it’s better than a big fight,” he said. “Sometimes the fight’s fun, but it doesn’t benefit anybody.”
No deal was reached, and it went to the judge to decide.
Tortorice first asked the judge to strike the intervention that Cain had filed on behalf of the Bobo family, which Bates declined to do.
He further said he was not aware that Donan sold the trailer, and that it was his contention that the Bobo family was not lawful residents.
Donan, he said, was the legal resident. He also said that the requirement for reasonable accommodation for the child’s medical condition was met by giving the family the opportunity to move out.
He referred to an earlier Baytown Sun article that quoted Blanca as saying she had never had a signed lease. Cain countered that Blanca had been paying rent for 10 years.
Cain said the Bobo family has a pending complaint they filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development accusing the landlord of discrimination, and that HUD was better equipped to determine if discrimination had occurred.
He also said that several other mobile homes in the park have air conditioning units, including units owned by Tortorice.
In dismissing the case, Bates did not address the discrimination question, but instead said that the eviction suit was filed against the wrong person—since Donan didn’t live there, she couldn’t be evicted.
Afterward, Cain said, “This is a short-term victory, not a long-term victory. I expect more battles to come.”
For their part, Blanca said they are looking to move their mobile home, but trying to get more time. “We’ve been looking, but haven’t found anything definite. I know with Owen’s surgery coming up next month, that’s still first thing versus finding a place.”
Cain said he expected to be able to get a few more months’ reprieve.
“I can buy some time, but y’all are going to have to look for something else,” he said. “In the end, there is no forcing someone to rent to you. The real goal was to allow y’all to leave on your terms.”
When interviewed in December, Blake and Blanca said they hoped they could get until summer to move.
Tortorice did not respond to a request for comment in December.
Asked for a response as he hurried from the courtroom, he would only say, “No comment.”