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U.S. v. LEPORE

December 23, 1991

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BENJAMIN F. LEPORE, JR., AND JOYCE M. LEPORE, D/B/A L & L MOBILE HOME PARK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rambo, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM

A bench trial was held by this court on December 9-11, 1991 in the captioned matter. Both parties presented witnesses and evidence. After giving the matter close consideration, the court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Findings of Fact

1. Charles and Lori Meiler have resided, since the middle of March 1989, in a two bedroom mobile home on a lot leased from the defendants at the L & L Mobile Home Park ("L & L").

2. In early September 1989 the Meilers became aware that they were expecting their first child due in April 1990.

3. The rules and regulations of L & L then prohibited children from residing in the park and also restricted occupancy to two persons per unit.

4. The Meilers were aware that children were not permitted in the park and they feared they would be evicted when the park owners found out they were expecting a child. This led the Meilers to sign a housing discrimination complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of familial status. The original complaint, signed only by Charles Meiler, was filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") on November 20, 1989. An amended complaint was signed also by Lori Meiler on January 16, 1990.

5. In response to HUD inquiries, on or around December 5, 1989, defendant Benjamin F. Lepore, Jr. advised HUD that L & L would abandon its "adults only" policy. Defendants did not, however, alter the two person occupancy restriction.

6. Charles and Lori Meilers' child, Stacy, was born on April 22, 1990.

7. On August 6, 1990, while the Meilers' discrimination complaint was still under investigation by HUD, the defendants sent a letter to the Meilers telling them to vacate the lot in the L & L Mobile Home Park within thirty (30) days because they were in violation of the two person occupancy limitation. The Meilers signed an amended housing complaint with HUD on August 8, 1990 to indicate they had received this notice to vacate.

8. Charles and especially Lori Meiler were distressed by the receipt of the notice to vacate. They were very fearful of the loss of their home. The Meilers sought but were unable to locate a space for their trailer in another mobile home park. They found that other mobile home parks would not accept an older trailer, such as theirs, because it did not have a peaked roof and siding which gives a mobile home a house like appearance. The Meilers believed they would have to sell their trailer and seek decent and affordable housing elsewhere. Due to their limited income and savings, however, the Meilers were unable to purchase another home. The Meilers, then with a very young child, were reluctant to live with relatives and were concerned with the consequent disruption in their own lives and that of their relatives. Charles Meiler was concerned that he would have to leave his wife and infant child and live elsewhere.

9. In response to the receipt of the eviction notice, Charles and Lori Meiler incurred time and transportation expenses in searching for alternative housing. Charles and Lori Meiler spent eight hours and traveled thirty miles in seeking alternative housing. Mr. Meiler's time is calculated at the rate of $10 per hour based on his approximate hourly rate. The use of their private vehicle is calculated at the government rate of $0.24 per mile. This loss totals $87.20.

10. Charles Meiler lost wages in the amount of $40.00 when he was required to leave work on August 14, 1990 to sign an amended HUD complaint to initiate the prompt judicial action proceedings.

11. On September 5, 1990, the United States filed a complaint for prompt judicial action pursuant to the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3610(e), seeking emergency relief to enjoin the imminent eviction of the Meilers from L & L pending completion of the HUD investigative process and decisionmaking. United States v. Lepore, Civil No. 1:CV-90-1617. A temporary restraining order was entered on September 5, 1990 and on September 12, 1990 this court entered a consent order enjoining defendants from evicting Charles and Lori Meiler until their complaint is finally resolved in accord with the procedures of the Act. The Meilers continue to reside at L & L.

12. The Meilers have incurred the expense of sending rent checks via certified mail to document payment, an expense totalling $32.61.

13. Charles and Lori Meiler also incurred time and transportation expenses in filing complaints with HUD and meeting with HUD officials to contest the adults only and the two person occupancy restrictions. The Meilers spent six hours and traveled 20 miles in this endeavor. The Meilers have also spent eight hours and have traveled an additional 20 miles in meeting with an attorney from the Department of Justice. The Meilers have further incurred travel and possible loss of wages as a consequence of their attendance at court hearings for which these findings will later be amended. Mr. Meiler's time is calculated at the rate of $10 per hour based on his approximate hourly rate. The use of their private vehicle is calculated at the government rate of $.24 per mile. This loss presently equals $149.60.

14. L & L is a 37 lot mobile home park located at 3700 West Market Street, York, Pennsylvania 17404.

15. Defendants Benjamin F. Lepore, Jr. ("Ben, Jr.," "Mr. Lepore") and Joyce M. Lepore own and operate L & L.

16. Defendants acquired L & L from Mr. Lepore's father, Benjamin Lepore, Sr. ("Ben, Sr.").

17. Ben, Sr. had built L & L in or around 1955. In the mid-1960s, Ben, Sr. imposed a two person per mobile home occupancy limitation in the park.

18. At the time of purchase, L & L had no child residents.

19. Lots in L & L are offered for lease for the placement of mobile homes owned by others. For a monthly rent defendants provide a lot space, water and sewer hook-up, garbage collection, and maintenance of a private access road. Lessees pay providers for other utilities such as electricity, telephone and fuel.

20. Under provisions of L & L rules and regulations, the defendants have the right to approve all residents in the park. The L & L rules and regulations set forth defendants' conditions for residency in the trailer in L & L.

21. In the late 1970s, defendants instituted an explicit "adults only" policy. This was done to accommodate the park's aging population regarding noise and other problems associated with children.

22. Defendants defined children as persons under 18 years of age.

23. In May 1985, defendant Benjamin Lepore, Jr. stated to Sandra Holtzapple, a new tenant, that he did not want children living in the park because they would deface or harm the property — the buildings, the shed and barn structure, the septic system and the water pump.

24. In February 1987, defendant Benjamin Lepore, Jr. stated to another new tenant, Duane Martin, that he did not want children in the park because he felt that children would be disruptive to the adults living in the park. He also expressed concern with parents of children dropping diapers into the toilet.

25. In September 1988, defendant Benjamin Lepore, Jr. stated to Diane Mellott, another new tenant, that he did not want children in the park because they would flush toys and other objects down the toilet, that children made too much noise, and that the quiet and peaceful nature of the park would be upset.

26. In late March or early April 1989, defendant Benjamin Lepore, Jr. stated, in response to a request by an owner of a trailer, one Sharon Minnich, to sell the trailer to families with children, that he had a problem once before with children flushing things down the toilet.

27. Defendants have also indicated they did not want children in the park because of a belief that all children used more water than adults, a belief defendants based solely on limited experience with their own children. This subjective and oversimplified view of all children had no basis in fact, and it was not a reasonable basis for banning children from the park.

28. Defendant Benjamin Lepore, Jr. informed HUD investigator Mark Haas in an interview on December 5, 1989 that he had not previously known about the new fair housing law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of familial status.

29. However, shortly after March 12, 1989, the effective date of the amendments to the Fair Housing Act, Benjamin Lepore, Jr. was informed by Sharon Minnich, who was then seeking to sell a trailer in L & L to families with children, that the new fair housing law would prevent defendants from continuing to prohibit children from living in the park. Defendants did not change their "adults only" or two person occupancy restriction.

30. From the time they acquired L & L, defendants maintained a policy in the L & L rules and regulations of limiting occupancy to no more than two persons in a trailer irrespective of the size of the trailer.

31. The continuation of the two person occupancy limit after December 1989 and to the present would not allow the Meilers to continue living at L & L and would also exclude all other families comprised of two parents with one or more children, as well as single parent families with two or more children.

32. At present, a mother and infant daughter reside at L & L under no threat of eviction.

33. There are a total of 45,695 families with children living in York County, Pennsylvania according to the 1990 census. At least 36,749 of these families, or 80.42% of the total, are comprised of three or more persons, all of whom would be ineligible to reside at L & L under its two person per unit occupancy restriction.

34. A reason stated by defendants for the continuation of the two person occupancy restriction is that permitting more than two persons per lot would create more waste water than the septic tanks could handle.

35. The septic system at L & L is composed of nine tanks of 500 gallon capacity each. The number of mobile homes serviced by a single tank varies from 2 to 5 mobile homes. Wastewater from the mobile homes flows through a sewer pipe into the septic tank.

36. A two person occupancy restriction is not required by the minimum dwelling space requirements of West Manchester Township which has no limit on the number of individuals who can live in a dwelling unit if they are related by blood, marriage or adoption and maintain a common household. Up to three unrelated persons who maintain a common household may live in a dwelling. Zoning Ordinance, West Manchester Township, York County, Pennsylvania, at 7-8. See definitions of "single family detached dwelling" and "family."

37. Reasonably priced alternatives are available to the defendants which may help to control septic malfunction which would permit more than two persons to live on a unit.

38. Septic overflow can be controlled by pumping out the septic tanks. They state that the only limitations on more frequent pumping are its cost and availability.

39. On or around September 4, 1990 Joyce Lepore responded to a telephone call from HUD investigator Haas by refusing his request to forestall evicting the Meilers.

40. Since January 1, 1988 defendants have had the septic tanks at L & L pumped no more than twice a year. Six of the nine tanks have gone intervals of two ...


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