LARRY MILBY, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN MINISTRIES,
CHYRELL POTE, EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MARGARET B. SHAW, A/K/A MARGARET D. SHAW, A/K/A MARGARET SHAW, CHYRELL POTE, TERRY SHAW, AND ALL UNKNOWNS, CHYRELL POTE, EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MARGARET B. SHAW, A/K/A MARGARET D. SHAW, A/K/A MARGARET SHAW,
SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN MINISTRIES, LARRY MILBY, TRUSTEE, APPEAL OF: LARRY MILBY, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN MINISTRIES, AND SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN MINISTRIES, LARRY MILBY, TRUSTEE
from the Order entered August 18, 2017, in the Court of
Common Pleas of Blair County, Civil Division, at No(s), 2015
GN 3762 & 2016 GN 630.
BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., KUNSELMAN, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E.
Milby and Southern Christian Ministries ("SCM")
appeal from an order in consolidated cases, denying their
claims for redress and ejecting them from the Shaw Mobile
Home Park ("Park") for failure to pay rent and
comply with the Park rules. We affirm.
relevant facts and procedural history of these cases are as
follows. The parties have a landlord-tenant relationship
spanning nearing 50 years. Since 2013, however, disputes
between them have resulted in several lawsuits, including
Milby and his wife, Violet, have lived in a manufactured home
in the Shaw Mobile Home Park since the early 1970s. When they
first moved there, the Park was owned by Wayne and Margaret
Shaw. Mr. Shaw died in 1996. Mrs. Shaw became the Park owner
by virtue of his death. She was still living during part of
the relevant period of this lawsuit, but died in 2016. Thus,
her daughter Chyrell Pote, as executrix of her estate, is
named as a defendant in one of these consolidated actions and
as the plaintiff in the other. For simplicity sake, we will
refer to the Shaws, the estate and the execturix collectively
as the Park Owners.
the Milbys moved to the Park, the leases for all of the Park
lots were verbal. According to Mr. Milby, the terms of the
verbal lease included $35 per month in rent with no
termination or expiration date; the term of the lease
"was like forever" with no end to it -- "it
was for as long as you wanted to stay". The Milbys'
lot size was defined by an imaginary line between them and
their neighbors, primarily based upon the area each resident
maintained; the Park was never divided formally into lots.
Lease terms and conditions were the same for all tenants,
except for the amount of rent; newcomers typically were
charged a higher rent than existing tenants. There were no
specific written rules or regulations for the Park.
over time, the Milbys' rent increased in relatively minor
increments, and when sewage lines were installed in the Park,
the monthly rent included a fee to cover this additional
cost. Other increases were made randomly in amounts of $10 or
$20 at a time to bring the older leases in line with newer
around 2006, SCM began to lease lots in the Park. SCM, is a
not-for-profit Christian trust, formed in Kentucky. It owns
property in Kentucky, Florida and Pennsylvania. The trust
itself was never registered as a corporation with the
Pennsylvania Department of State and never obtained a
certificate of authority from the State to do business here.
Mr. Milby is the sole trustee of SCM. The purpose of the
trust is to aid and benefit working families who do not
receive assistance from the government. Under the trust, SCM
has the power to manage trust real estate, including the
power to lease, make repairs, and alterations.
eventually acquired verbal leases for eight lots, placing
mobile homes on seven of them (lots 2, 3, 9, 11, 12, 16 and
19). At some point in time, SCM took over leasing lot 16, the
Milbys' personal lot. The remaining lot, (lot 15) SCM
used for storage.
2015, rent for all of the SCM residential lots was $146 plus
a $72 sewer fee ($218 total per lot); rent for the storage
lot was $146. SCM subleased the residential lots for $520 per
the past few years, disputes over rent arose between SCM and
the Park Owners. In 2013 and 2014, the Park Owners filed
three ejectment actions against SCM. In the first action, the
trial court, by order dated May 16, 2014, ejected SCM from
lot 9 for failing to obtain permission from the Park Owners
to place a home on the lot, and for failing to obtain a
permit and inspection of the lot, in violation of the local
building code. SCM did not appeal this
second and third actions were consolidated, and after a
hearing on April 27, 2015, the trial court concluded that the
Park violated the Manufactured Home Community Rights Act
("MHCRA") for failing to have written leases.
Ultimately, the trial court entered a decision on July 8,
2015, in favor of SCM on the ejectment actions.
Park Owners did not appeal the ejectment decision, but
directed their attorney to send a letter, dated August 7,
2015, to SCM's attorney informing him that the Park
Owners would be sending out new written leases to avoid
future problems. Counsel further advised that he was
directing the Park Owners to set corner markings to identify
the dimensions of each lot. He also asked SCM's attorney
to inform SCM, and Mr. Milby, as trustee, of these formal
changes so there would be no issues.
months later, on November 2, 2015, SCM advised the Park
Owners by letter that it would be paying rent only in the
amount agreed to in the valid, original verbal leases made
with Wayne Shaw prior to his death, and that pursuant to its
calculation of rent due, SCM submitted a rent check in the
amount of $936. At the same time, SCM sent a Notice to
Cease Criminal Acts and Notice of Needed Repairs to the Park
Owners complaining about conditions in the Park and
threatening criminal charges.
November 5, 2015, the Park Owners sent SCM a notice informing
[t]his letter constitutes 60 days formal notice of the
community owner's intent to offer the new, renewed or
extended leases or shall increase rent and/or payables to the
Owner/Lessor, from you, the Lessee. No increased rent or fee
charges shall be effective against you prior to the
61st day after posting of this Notice, which has
notice further advised that "[y]ou, as the lessee shall
have 30 days from the date of this mailing to either accept
the new, renewed or extended rental agreement or to notify
the Landlord/Owner of your intent to vacate within 30
days." The written leases, which SCM allegedly had
requested since 2008, were forwarded with this letter.
written leases contained the rental amounts due for each lot
and the effective dates. The new leases for the six
residential lots (2, 3, 11, 12, 16 and 19) were to become
effective February 1, 2016. The new rent amount would be $176
per month, ($30 more than the current rent of $146), plus the
sewer fee of $72 per month ($248 total per lot). Until the
effective date of the new leases, the current rent, $146 plus
the sewer fee, was to be paid ($218 total per lot). The new
lease for the storage lot (15), was to become effective
sooner, on December 1, 2015, because it was a non-residential
lease and not subject to the MHCRA. The new rent amount for
that lot would be $148 per month (also $30 more than the
current rent of $118). The Park Owners sent similar written
leases to all other tenants of the Park.
November 9, 2015, a few days after sending the written leases
and a week after receiving the reduced rent check from SCM,
counsel for the Park Owners returned SCM's $936 rent
check and issued SCM a Notice of Violations. This notice
advised SCM that it had violated the rules for non-payment of
rent for the residential lots because the rent check was far
below the $1, 426 due for November. The notice further
advised SCM that it violated Park rules by sending the rent
check to the attorney for the Park Owners rather than putting
it in the Park's rent box. The notice warned SCM that
eviction proceedings would be commenced if the full amount of
rent for the residential lots was not paid within thirty (30)
days. The letter accompanying the notice also indicated that
the November rent for the storage lot, in the amount of $118,
received both the notice for the new leases and the notice of
violation of the existing leases on November 12, 2015.
Milby, as trustee for SCM, refused to sign the new written
leases. According to him, many of the terms and conditions of
the new leases were not consistent with the old verbal
leases. In particular, the new leases restricted the number
of parked vehicles tenants could keep on their lot and
prohibited other items from being stored on the property,
many of which Mr. Milby owned and stored on his lot. The lot
dimensions were not consistent with what Mr. Milby thought
they were. Despite Mr. Milby's misgivings about the new
leases, all of the other Park tenants signed the new lease.
December 8, 2015, Mr. Milby and SCM initiated this civil
action. In late 2015, Mr. Milby and SCM filed a lawsuit
pro se in federal court, raising similar issues to
those in this case. The federal suit was voluntarily dismissed
sometime in 2016.
their first amended complaint in this action, SCM and Mr.
Milby alleged that certain dangerous and unacceptable
conditions existed in the Park: uncapped, concrete sewer
pipes protruding on the SCM lots; metal stakes stuck out of
the ground to identify the boundaries of each lot; a damaged
utility pole was leaning toward lot 12; two caved in holes
from the outdated septic system remained unfilled on lots 12
and 16; and an area of ponding and stagnating water formed
behind lot 3. Although SCM complained to the Park about these
problems, they had not been addressed. Mr. Milby, in his
individual capacity, and SCM filed this action alleging that
these conditions constituted a private and/or public nuisance
and that these conditions infringed upon their right of quiet
complaint further alleged that because there were no written
leases between the parties, as required under the MHCRA, the
essential terms of the verbal leases were unclear. The
complaint contends that Park Owners, by sending new leases,
impermissibly modified the existing lease terms in
contravention of the MHCRA. Consequently, Mr. Milby and SCM
asked the court to declare the terms and conditions of the
existing leases and the rights and obligations of the
the complaint alleged that the Park Owners engaged in
retaliatory conduct, prohibited under Section 398.16 of the
MHCRA, which Mr. Milby and SCM sought to enjoin. Although
they concede that some of the new requirements for the Park
were reasonable, Mr. Milby and SCM contend that most of the
new rules were a deliberate attack upon them and were
retaliatory in nature. They claim the retaliatory conduct
includes: failing to repair dangerous conditions in the Park;
encroaching on tenants' lots with stakes and signs;
changing the designation of lot 15 from residential to
storage; policing by one of the Park residents to harass and
intimidate other Park residents; and imposing new lease terms
on the tenants. The most egregious retaliation, they contend,
was the thirty (30) day requirement to sign the new lease or
the civil lawsuit filed by Mr. Milby and SCM was still
pending, on January 15, 2016, the Park Owners issued a Notice
to Quit for delinquent rent upon SCM because it failed to
timely pay the full rent due for lot 15 under the new lease:
an additional $30 dollars for December, 1, 2015, and $30 for
January 1, 2016. The Park Owners directed SCM to remove
itself from lot 15 within 15 days from the date of service.
February 1, 2016, SCM paid $1, 426 to the Park Owners for
February rent. Despite this payment, on February 2, 2016, the
Park Owners filed an ejectment action with the local
Magisterial District Judge to remove SCM from all of its
lots. The Park Owners claim the six verbal residential lot
leases expired on January 31, 2016, under the MHCRA; the
storage lot lease expired on November 30, 2015, under the
Landlord and Tenant Act. Because all seven verbal leases had
expired, and SCM failed to enter into new leases, the Park
Owners claimed that they were entitled to take possession of
all of the SCM lots. Alternatively, the Park Owners sought
ejectment of SCM for its failure to pay rent and comply with
February 17, 2016, the Magisterial District Judge found in
favor of the Park Owners as to all seven lots. SCM appealed
to the trial court, where both the ejectment action filed by
the Park Owners and the pending civil action filed by Mr.
Milby and SCM were consolidated.
bench trial on these consolidated matters, including a site
view of the Park, the trial court issued an Order, dated July
18, 2017, granting the Park Owners ejectment/eviction of SCM
from all seven lots. The trial court further entered judgment
against SCM and in favor of the Park Owners in the amount of
$13, 908.45, representing unpaid rent from February 1, 2016
through July 31, 2017, and unpaid sewerage costs on lot 15.
In addition, SCM remained liable for the new rental amount of
$248 per month, per lot, from August 1, 2016, until the
manufactured homes are removed. As to the civil action filed
by Mr. Milby and SCM, the trial court dismissed the entire
case for lack of standing and entered judgment in favor of
the Park Owners. Although it dismissed this action based on
standing, the trial court, nonetheless, addressed all claims
raised in the first amended complaint, but concluded none had
Milby and SCM timely appealed. They and the trial court
complied with Pa R.A.P. 1925. Because its July 18, 2017 order
and opinion provided a comprehensive analysis of the issues
presented at trial, along with detailed findings of fact and
conclusions of law, the trial court only addressed the
standing issue in its subsequent 1925(a) Opinion, dated
August 18, 2017. For all other issues raised, the trial court
relied on its prior opinion. In addressing the standing issue
again, the trial court reconsidered its original conclusion
and acknowledged that SCM may have standing to bring suit but
still concluded that all of SCM's claims were meritless.
appeal, Mr. Milby and SCM raised seven issues which we have
rephrased for clarity and reordered for ease of discussion:
I. Whether the trial court erred in finding that Mr. Milby
and SCM did not have standing to pursue an action against the
II. Whether the trial court erred in denying SCM's
request to adopt and incorporate the trial court's prior
findings of fact and conclusions of law from its order dated
July 8, 2015?
III. Whether the trial court erred in finding that the
Manufactured Home Community Rights Act did not apply to the
claims Mr. Milby and SCM filed against the Park Owners?
IV. Whether the trial court erred in not affording Mr. Milby
and SCM the presumption of retaliation under the Manufactured
Home Community Rights Act and in determining that the actions
of the Park Owners were not retaliatory?
V. Whether the trial court erred in determining that the Park
Owners' new written leases were valid and enforceable
under the Manufactured Home Community Rights Act?
VI. Whether the trial court erred in determining that the
Park Owners were entitled to ejectment/eviction of SCM from
the Shaw Mobile Home Park?
VII. Whether the trial court erred in determining the Park
Owners were entitled to damages in quantum meruit
for SCM's use of lot 15 of the Shaw Mobile Home Park as a
Milby/SCM Brief at 4-5.
Court's scope and standard of review on appeal following
a bench trial is well-settled:
Our appellate role in cases arising from non-jury trial
verdicts is to determine whether the findings of the trial
court are supported by competent evidence and whether the
trial court committed error in any application of the law.
The findings of fact of the trial judge must be given the
same weight and effect on appeal as the verdict of a jury. We
consider the evidence in a light most favorable to the
verdict winner. We will reverse the trial court only if its
findings of fact are not supported by competent evidence in
the record or if its findings are premised on an error of
law. However, where the issue ... concerns a question of law,
our scope of review is plenary. The trial court's
conclusions of law on appeal originating from a non-jury
trial are not binding on an appellate court because it is the
appellate court's duty to determine if the trial court
correctly applied the law to the facts of the case.
Stephan v. Waldron Elec. Heating and Cooling LLC,
100 A.3d 660, 664- 65 (Pa. Super. 2014) (citation and
quotation omitted). "'Threshold issues of standing
are questions of law; thus, our standard of review is de
novo and our scope of review is plenary.'"
Rellick-Smith v. Rellick, 147 A.3d 897, 901 (Pa.
Super. 2016) (quoting Johnson v. Am. Std., 8 A.3d
318, 326 (Pa. Super. 2010)).
crux of this appeal requires interpretation of the provisions
of the Manufactured Home Community Rights Act, 68 P.S.398.1
et seq. This Act is not one which has been reviewed
by our appellate courts with any regularity, and in
particular, not in recent times. Many years ago, we
summarized the basic principles behind the MCHRA as follows:
The purpose of this legislation is to give special protection
to mobile home owners in mobile home parks. One reason for
the distinction between mobile home park owners and other
landlords is the hybrid type of property relationship that
exists between the tenant who owns the home and the landlord
who rents only the lot on which the mobile home sits. In most
instances a mobile home owner in a park is required to remove
the wheels and anchor the home to the ground in order to
facilitate connections with electricity, water and sewerage.
Thus, it is only at substantial expense that a mobile home
can be removed from a park with no ready place to go. The
legislature, while recognizing the right of the mobile home
park owner to establish and publish reasonable rules and
regulations relating to tenants in the park, has sought to
prevent arbitrary evictions at a substantial expense to park
Malvern Courts, Inc. v. Stephens, 419 A.2d 21, 23
(Pa. Super. 1980). Although manufactured homes are frequently
referred to as "mobile homes", they are not easily
movable and tend to be more of a long-term housing option.
For this reason, the Legislature has afforded special
protection to those who lease property in a manufactured home
manufactured home park, the Park is subject to the provisions
of the MHCRA. Thus, in analyzing the issues in this appeal,
we must give consideration to the purpose of the MHCRA's
enactment, legislative intent and the literal working of the
the civil action Mr. Milby and SCM filed against the Park
Owners, the trial court dismissed all of these claims. Mr.
Millby and SCM did not appeal the trial court's findings
of fact and conclusions of law related to their claims of
public and private nuisance, breach of the implied covenant
of quiet enjoyment, or their request for a declaration
judgment as to the essential lease terms and conditions. Any
issues related to these claims have therefore been waived.
See Milby/SCM Brief at 4-5.
only remaining claim from that lawsuit is for retaliation
under the MHCRA. Because that issue is so interwoven with
the ejectment action filed by the Park Owners, in reality,
only one dispute remains, i.e. whether the Park Owners were
justified in filing their ejectment action as the trial court
determined, or whether the Park Owners' actions were