Don Paul and his wife, Judy, have lived in the Rambush Estates mobile home park in Burnsville for 13 years.
Paul, who retired three years ago after 54 years in the roofing trade, keeps the small yard immaculate, festooned with garden sculptures, flowers, plants and a small wooden fence. The metal-roofed car port keeps their SUV out of the rain and snow and keeps precipitation off the stairs and landing leading to their front door.
On June 12, though, the city of Burnsville sent notices to the Pauls and 21 other residents in the park who have carports saying the structures have to go because they violate state building code and city code. If residents don’t comply within a certain number of days, they face steep reinspection fees.
A few people have already removed their carports; some others are fighting back, attorney Valerie Sims said.
Sims has served the city with a lawsuit, claiming, among other things, that Rambush Estates is private property and Burnsville does not have the authority to issue code violations there.
“Manufactured homes are a completely different animal,” Sims said.
Minnesota law gives the state the “exclusive right” to do property inspections in mobile home parks, she said. The park also has its own extensive set of rules that govern what can and can’t be on the lots. Residents who run afoul of the park’s rules can be fined — in the form of a rent increase — or evicted.
The lawsuit said that resident Kathryn Eich is suing “on behalf of herself and all other similarly situated residents of [the park].” The defendants, in addition to the city of Burnsville, are Ted Oakland and Christopher Forslund, both code inspectors for the city.
Sims said Thursday that her next step is to file the lawsuit in Dakota County District Court and request a motion to certify it as a class action.
Burnsville City Attorney Joel Jamnik said in an e-mail that the “case has been forwarded to the city’s insurance provider, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust for review … and possible assignment of defense counsel.”
“Further comment at this time would be premature,” he wrote.
Notice of violations
Eich, 69, has lived in Rambush Estates for the past 11 years. She is a single mother with a disabled son and takes care of her 99-year-old mother, Sims said.
She got permission from the owners of Rambush Estates to have the carport installed. The large structure has room for at least two vehicles and helps her manage the snow shoveling in the winter, she said. Without it, she’d have to hire someone to plow her driveway.
On May 22, Eich received a letter addressed to “Property Owner” and signed by Oakland, citing three violations. The first said, “An observation of your property noticed a nonconforming carport on your lot,” and “Please have the carport removed.”
The second and third violations concerned a wheel barrow in the yard — Eich said she was using it to tend her garden — and trash cans in view.
Eich and the other residents of Rambush Estates do not own the land their manufactured homes sit on — the lot is rented from the park owner.
Phone messages left with the management of Rambush Estates were not returned.
On June 12, another letter came addressed to Eich and signed by Forslund. It said residents must prove that their carports meet the state building code and, if so, they may apply for a variance from the city code. The variance application fee, the letter said, is a nonrefundable $750, and a $1,000 escrow fund is required along with the application.
Sims said Eich “lives on Social Security and pays half of that out for rent. She takes pride in her property.
“She knows what’s right is right. But she is very stressed out,” the attorney said.
Sims said residents were never told what specific provision in the building code they were violating or given any reason the carport didn’t comply. The lawsuit also said the city code violates residents’ right to due process because it doesn’t contain any process for the resident to fight it and the city codes conflict with both the park’s rules and the state’s rules for manufactured homes.
Burnsville building official Chris Faste said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation, but he said every property in the city must follow state and city codes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a single-family home, a commercial property or a manufactured home park, he said.
Don Paul, meanwhile, isn’t sure what he’s going to do with his carport. He did all of the improvements to the property himself and doesn’t want to see them go, he said. When he built the carport, he specifically asked Rambush Estates whether he needed to pull a building permit and was told no, he said.