Debbie Brown and John Ray have filed a federal lawsuit against a Treasure Valley trailer park owner, saying he failed to fix a recurring sewage leak at their home, leading to an uncomfortable living situation that exacerbated Brown’s disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.
Last June, Brown and Ray moved into a trailer park at 410 E. 43rd Street in Garden City, according to a complaint filed Feb. 2 in federal court. The park is run by Law Property Management, which works for the trailer park’s owner, Randy Hoffer.
About a month after moving in, Brown and Ray noticed “a foul smell permeating their home.” A few weeks later, Ray removed the skirting around the base of the trailer and crawled underneath it, where he “observed the entire crawl space beneath the home had been flooded with raw sewage.”
A longtime trailer park owner and operator, Hoffer has had run-ins with disgruntled tenants before. In 2006, the city of Boise shut off power to a small park he owned, citing “imminent danger” to tenants due to an antiquated power system. Earlier that year, one of the park’s trailers burned in a fire caused by an electrical problem.
“He’s been a ridiculous landlord,” a teenager told the Idaho Statesman at the time, adding that in the middle of all the electrical problems the park was facing, Hoffer told tenants he was going to raise their rent.
Brown and Ray alerted Hoffer in August, and a plumber came to their home. The plumber told them “that to fix the problem and remediate the sewage, the home would need to be removed from the lot, the soil upon which the home was situated would need to be excavated and replaced, the sewer lines and fixtures servicing the lot would need to be replaced.”
“Given its condition, it was his opinion that it was advisable to condemn the whole lot,” the complaint reads.
The plumber told Brown and Ray that they should move because living so close to so much raw sewage was unhealthy. Besides physical health risks, the presence of the sewage triggered and aggravated Brown’s mental and emotional complications, “causing her significant stress and anxiety.”
The next day, according to the complaint, a handy-man who works for Law Property Management came to the home to investigate the problem, but he didn’t follow the plumber’s suggestions. Instead, he “dug around a pipe and wrapped the pipe in tape,” according to the complaint.
“The man proceeded to collect an amount of sewage from underneath the home, placed the sewage in a number of plastic bags, placed the plastic bags outside on the lot and against the plaintiffs’ home, re-affixed the skirting and left,” Brown’s and Ray’s suit reads.
Around Aug. 13, Brown’s 9-year-old daughter fell ill and was hospitalized with symptoms consistent with a meningitis infection.
Still, according to Brown’s and Ray’s complaint, Hoffer and Law did not adequately fix the sewer problem despite the handy-man spending several days working on the problem, and did not clean up the sewer contaminating the ground underneath the home.
In mid-September, Brown and Ray noticed a bad smell coming from their water. The water is undrinkable, according to the complaint.
A professional plumber again visited the property in late November, after the toilet backed up, and provided a temporary fix while warning that problems would continue until the line servicing the trailer park was replaced.
Now, Brown and Ray are suing Hoffer and Law for violating the U.S. Fair Housing Act, state laws including the Idaho Consumer Protection Act and negligence. They say Law terminated their tenancy in the midst of the sewer problems. According to their complaint, Law told them if they sought legal recourse, they would fail because “Law knew the judge, and that the judge would not give (them) what they wanted.”
Brown and Ray are asking for “punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial,” for the federal court to order Hoffer and Law to repair the sewer system that services their home, and for other relief.
Hoffer and Law have not filed responses in court yet. Efforts to contact Law’s attorney and Hoffer were unsuccessful.