A long-standing mobile home park near Scottsdale closed for good last Sunday, as hundreds of residents left what they thought was their home for decades.
Some mobile home owners sue, accusing park managers of lying about how many years Roadrunner Lake Resort would be open as affordable mobile home parks in the valley close in favor of new developments.
Now the 55-plus community seems abandoned, seemingly at all times, with furniture and clothing left behind and dozens of empty houses remaining.
Former resident Joyce Spohn said the community of over 600 residents was once athriving and fun place to live with clubs and activities for those who live in the park. When her husband passed away, she said 200 people from the community attended her memorial service.
“It was a very active community and very well supported by everyone in the community,” she said.
Some former park residents are taking legal action against Arizona Communities and Wenner Management, the companies that owned and operated McDowell Road Park and Loop 101.
Residents say park managers have promised the park has a 99-year lease on the property with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community. However, the lease was actually due to expire on August 4, 2019 and SRPMIC had no intention of renewing it.
“A horrible, horrible lesson”
Wendy Murray, who moved to the park with her husband Randy and their 30-year-old son, said she would never have bought their house if she had known she would have to move.
“It was a horrible, horrible lesson,” she said.
Murray said she believed the stress of losing her home contributed to her husband’s Parkinson’s disease.
“Doctors will tell you that if you have a lot of stress it can induce what you already have, and it is,” Murray said.
Spohn expressed a similar sentiment, saying she partially blamed the stress of closing the park for her husband’s death from a heart attack.
Former park resident Sue Ishikawa said she and her husband Allen moved last year. However, she said that at the end of July there were still people living in the park who could not afford to leave or had health issues that prevented them from moving.
“They have nowhere to go,” she said.
The term of the lease
Former park residents say Roadrunner Lake Resort management has told park residents the lease will be in effect for years to come.
However, documents show that the park opened on tribal land in 1969 with a 25-year lease, which was renewed for 25 years in 1987.
This lease was due to expire on August 4, 2019. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community did not agree to renew the agreement.
On July 11, signs were posted around the park, advising residents that from August 5, “anyone remaining on the property would be trespassing.”
They will be expelled and “no extension will be granted,” said Kim Secakuku, spokesperson for the tribe.
Tribal officials said in 2018they gave the residents of Roadrunner Lake Resort “ample time” for “the trailer park closure and transition.”
Eric Traut, lawyer offormer residents, park managers saidknew the lease for the property would expire in 2019, but told residents it would be fine for much longer, according to the lawsuit.
“For years, their sales staff told people it was a 99-year lease on the land and they could live there the rest of their lives without any issues,” Traut said.
The managers of the park should have informed the owners of mobile homes of the real expiration so that “people can make their own decision as to whether or not they want to buy a property there.”
Secakuku said SRPMIC currently has no plan for the land that housed the Roadrunner Lake Resort.
“The first consideration will be to assess the condition of the land and develop a remediation plan for any cleanup effort,” she said.
Seeking legal action
After park managers announced the property’s closure, they asked residents to relinquish their rights tosue the park in exchange for the management company buying their homes. But residents say they were paid less than the homes were worth.
Spohn said she regrets signing a $ 5,000 deal.
If she could go back, Spohn said she would likely join the trial instead, as she was “under duress and at a time when I was in shock” in the months following the death of her husband when she agreed to sell thousands of dollars less than what she put in her house.
“They would say anything or do anything to get you to sign and you are not going to sue them,” Spohn said.
Ishikawa, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she and her husband, who owned two properties in the park, were told by management “not to worry” when they found out in January 2016 that the lease was due to expire.
Ishikawa said that she and her husband Allen lost $ 50,000 on the value of their home.
“They lied to all of us,” she said.
Wenner Management chairman Bob Rice said park management “communicates regularly with residents” on the status of the lease and the company is helping residents relocate.
“We continue to work with the people who are in the park today. We have delivered water to the homes of the people who are still in the park,” he said.
However, Ishikawa said management has only helped residents who signed the agreement not to sue Arizona communities.
The lawsuit goes to mediation this week.
Traut hopes to come to an agreement with park managers, he said. They are asking for $ 1 million in restitution for losses suffered by residents from selling their homes at a lower price, $ 1,200 per plaintiff to cover moving costs, as well as damage due to emotional distress, a declared Traut.
“Otherwise, we just continue with the litigation,” Traut said.
Ultimately, Spohn said she was mistreated by running a place she had hoped to call home for the rest of her life.
“We were lied to and misrepresented,” she said.
Nathan J. Fish contributed reporting for this story.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.