New CASA Lawsuit: Maryland Landlord Illegally Overcharges Tenants for Water
Single Mom of Four Charged $800 for Water, More than Rent
ROCKVILLE, MD – CASA today filed a complaint in the Montgomery County Circuit Court in Maryland challenging the illegal fees and intimidation of 28 tenants at Middlebrook MHC, LLC. The full complaint against the mobile home park can be found online.
This case involves the pernicious act of the mobile home park charging vulnerable residents illegal fees for water. CASA finds that Middlebrook MHC, LLC fails to properly maintain water systems, fails to monitor and inspect the residents’ water usage to identify abnormalities in usage, and charges residents hundreds of dollars per month in water bills. Worse yet, the landlord threatened to evict residents for nonpayment of rent when the residents complained that Middlebrook Mobile Homes were not living up to their contractual, statutory, and common law obligations. Instead, they continue to ignore major structural utility systems and extortionate fee-collection practices, then pass the cost of their misdeeds on to the residents.
These changes took place in the summer of 2018, when management changed hands. They installed new water meters, and water bills immediately spiked. For some residents, the water bill was nearly a thousand dollars.
“CASA is suing today because, for over two years, the management at Middlebrook has not listened to our concerns,” details CASA staff attorney Jonathan Riedel. “The water bills are absurd. Middlebrook believes that a family of four can use three full swimming pools’ worth of water in a single month. In a mobile home, no less. This lawsuit is designed to tell the landlord that no, it is not the residents’ fault. These residents deserve a voice, and they deserve justice.”
The average family uses 55 gallons per person per day. Many Middlebrook Mobile Home residents buy their own drinking water, don’t have big lawns or swimming pools, and take extreme measures to conserve water. Where the water bills are normal, some tenants use just 35 or 40 gallons of water per person per day. One early water bill, which said that a family of four used 51,000 gallons of water in a single month. That’s approximately 400 gallons of water per person per day.
“For the last three years, the residents have been abandoned, discriminated against, and taken advantage of by loopholes within the housing system, all while paying the heavy price of high water costs and more. I speak out today on behalf of the 200+ homeowners to demand accountability and transparency. Our families cannot bear the burden anymore,” said Ana Laura Garcia, tenant’s association president of the Middlebrook Mobile Home community. “Unfortunately, the lack of accountability and transparency has led us to this lawsuit. While trying to find answers and help, we have found that neither the county nor the management office wants to take responsibility or accountability for what has happened at the Middlebrook Mobile Homes.”
Ana Laura’s family of three takes various water conservation measures, including buying bottled water for cooking and drinking and doing laundry offsite. Likewise, another mobile home resident Berta Bonilla has received bills with incorrect summations, incorrect rates, and incorrect amounts of water usage. Her family consumes as little water as possible and have still received a bill of nearly $800.
“The water bills would reach as high as $800 a month! As a house cleaner and single mother of four, these water bills have forced me to make tough financial decisions for my family, which have gotten worse during the pandemic,” said Berta Bonilla, Middlebrook Mobile Homes resident. “The possibility of being evicted from the home I’ve lived in for 15 years was frightening, for not paying my water bills on time was frightening. I am here today to demand accountability and answers. No one should ever have to pay such an outrageous amount for water bills.”
For the past three years, the tenant’s association of the Middlebrook Mobile Homes has organized and mobilized to address urgent matters that significantly affect over 200 families. Alex Vazquez, who has led organizing with CASA, said, “Unfortunately, after multiple attempts to work together with the management office and the county, the residents have exhausted all attempts to address these urgent concerns. These CASA Members have banded together to seek accountability, transparency, and responsibility from their landlord.”
"I salute the residents of the Middlebrook trailer park for fighting for their families and in that way fighting for our broader community," said County Executive Marc Elrich. "It is time for the owners of the property to meet residents and eliminate the outrageous charges that they confront."
"I am proud to join CASA in filing today’s lawsuit to protect tenants against a predatory landlord taking advantage of hard-working residents," Council President Tom Hucker said. "We should be doing everything in our power to protect our tenant community, who have been disproportionately affected by the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic. I'm grateful to continue to work collaboratively with CASA and other nonprofit partners to create a safe environment for all tenants in Montgomery County."
“Unfortunately, the people who are the most vulnerable are the most exploited,” said Lesley Lopez, Maryland State Delegate, District 39. “How possibly could a family in a mobile home use up three swimming pools worth of water?”
With over 115,000 members across the states of Maryland, Virginia, and South Central Pennsylvania, CASA is the largest member-based Latino and immigrant organization in the mid-Atlantic region. Visit us at www.wearecasa.org and follow us on Twitter at @CASAforall