Breaking the code
Steve Weichold hopes Tualatin's chronic nuisance ordinance will help clean up his neighborhood
TUALATIN - An old washing machine sat near the street curb for weeks. Four young children smiled and laughed as they walked past it.
The kids were still enjoying their summer vacation as they strolled around their neighborhood. They didn't give the washing machine a second look. It had been there a while - just another familiar fixture in the crowded yards of the Willow Glen Mobile Home Park.
'Every city has a dark side, and (in Tualatin) this is it,' said Steve Weichold, who has been a Willow Glen resident for nine years. 'This place looks like a little bit of hell.'
Like an old appliance on the side of the road, Willow Glen has not attracted much attention in the last few years. According to city officials, no one has lodged any complaints against the park, which holds more than 40 mobile homes on 4.39 acres. Constructed before the city had a development code and with some of the homes grandfathered in under the code, the park is 'old,' as Weichold describes it.
The last issue to raise any concern happened several years ago when park residents fought to get on city water. The well water at the time caused complaints because of smell and color.
Capt. Jeff Groth with the Tualatin Police Department referred to the park as a 'depressed community' and 'a smaller scale of Stoneridge,' another neighborhood in Tualatin that has been battling crime.
One resident did call the city in July. Jim Jacks, the city's special projects manager, remembered the man complaining about the living standards in Willow Glen.
'But he said he would likely move out, because it just wasn't a place where he wanted to live,' Jacks recalled of the brief conversation.
'A lot of people have moved,' Weichold admitted. He lowered his voice and added, 'They've all moved.'
Weichold throws out terms like 'slum' and 'shacks' when he describes his neighborhood at 9700 S.W. Tualatin Road, less than three blocks from the Tualatin Country Club. From Tualatin Road, trees and a fence hide most of the park's homes. A boarded-up building at the park's front entrance gives motorists and visitors their first glimpse of the old park.
Inside, overgrown weeds line the narrow and worn roads circling the park. The land is littered with debris and trash. A rusty children's play structure is nearly smothered by mobile homes.
Amidst the rundown trailers, a few of the homes are well maintained. Fixed with fences and shutters and neatly tended landscape, those homes convey a small sense of community and comfort. In the park, however, the eyesores far outweigh the neatly maintained homes.
Ordinance gives hope
'I'm just trying to keep myself separated from it all,' said Weichold, who has a dark-stained wooden fence surrounding his home. He keeps the fence padlocked at night, because aside from the harsh exterior of the park, Weichold is also concerned with the tenants who call the park home.
Weichold was energized days after the City Council approved a new chronic nuisance ordinance. The new ordinance holds landlords responsible for their tenants who prove to be chronic nuisances to a neighborhood. The ordinance enables police to cite property owners in court if their property or tenants are the reason for three or more police calls within a 90-day period. Property owners, according to the ordinance, could receive as much as a $500 penalty for each day they had knowledge of the violation and failed to abate it.
But even as Weichold became convinced that the new ordinance might be able to force the park's owner to clean up the neighborhood, he was confronted with his own despair as he noted in a phone message, 'Nothing will probably come of this anyway.'
The Willow Glen property is owned by Resources Northwest - a company formed in 1990, according to business registry information from the Oregon Secretary of State's office. The company is shown as having retained ownership of the property in 2003 but is listed on the property's change of title record three times dating back to 1999. The company's president is Kenneth Hick. Hick's name is also on the property's title change record as far back as 1986. Resources Northwest and/or Hick own 27 of the mobile homes on the property, according to Washington County tax records. Hick and Dale Sweely, a man known by park residents as the property manager, refused to comment for this story. Calls left at Resources Northwest requesting a comment about a resident's concerns were not returned.
Police calls to the area have included possible drug activity, trash, traffic, trespassing and criminal mischief. Weichold said he's lost count of the number of times the police have been out to the park. In the beginning of September, Weichold said he stood outside his home and watched as police officers surrounded the park's entrances and canvassed the neighborhood. According to Groth, the police department had no report on the incident. Groth noted that the officers were likely looking for someone or something, a stray animal or a person. In the month of August, police responded to 16 calls in the park.
Jacks said that if city inspectors were called into the neighborhood for a code inspection for trash, debris and noxious vegetation, they would probably find violations.
Weichold, who served as the park's manager for about eight months in 2000, says he's complained to the owner a few times and complained to the manager 'thousands of times' about the tenants in the park and about the basic appearance of some of the homes.
'Nothing ever happens,' he added. '(The owner) only does what's necessary. He won't do anything more than what's necessary.'
Owners must take lead
According to David Kaufman, it's normal for tensions to run high between park owners and residents when complaints arise. Kaufman is a facilitator/mediator with Oregon's Department of Housing and Community Relations mobile home division.
Common complaints among residents usually arise from the close proximity of mobile home parks. Noise, trash and parking are fairly common concerns, Kaufman said. But the division also handles complaints of chronic nuisance tenants.
According to Kaufman, most mobile home parks in Oregon do conduct background checks on their tenants. Kaufman noted that it was very uncommon not to see background checks done.
'The sole source of income in a mobile home park is the space for rent,' Kaufman said. 'It's in the best interest of the owner to keep it livable. It's hard to get rid of a bad reputation.'
The Office of Manufactured Dwelling Park Community Relations is an asset for park residents who want to learn more about their rights. But as Kaufman pointed out, the office can only provide advice to those residents who own their mobile homes and simply rent the land.
Weichold, who does own his mobile home, said he regrets ever having moved to the park. Now with the high price of homes and land in the Portland area, he feels stuck.
'It's quaint, bit it sucks living here,' he said.
'Close it or clean it'
The chronic nuisance ordinance does not promise to be a magic tool for any absent landlord problems in Tualatin. Groth noted that property owners have played a major role in starting to turn around the Stoneridge area. Owners and residents in the neighborhood formed a committee to discuss complaints and concerns and to come up with solutions.
'We can't kick people out,' Groth said. 'The owners are the ones who have to say, 'You can't stay here.''
Until then, Groth said police will continue to respond to every call and complaint generated from the park.
'We're not turning our heads from it,' Groth added.
Standing in his narrow driveway outside his fenced yard, Weichold waves his hands toward the park.
'You can't tell me the city doesn't see this,' Weichold said. 'This park is a nuisance to the city. Either close it or clean it up.'