MUSKEGON — Sun Communities faces a lawsuit claiming the company took a former Traverse City man’s mobile home without his knowledge or consent — and claiming the company has done the same to many others.
Timothy Yamaoka is suing the company, which operates dozens of mobile home parks in Michigan, said Philip Rosi, Yamaoka’s attorney. The man used to live in Town and Country, one of Sun Communities properties, until he moved to Cadillac.
Yamaoka tried to sell his mobile home but the company insisted he pay back rent, Rosi said. He refused because his home was worth more than he owed. Then, Yamaoka heard from someone interested in buying the home that it looked as though someone was living there.
“The former owner goes up to take a look, and sure enough, there’s somebody living in there,” Rosi said.
The company got title to the mobile home through the Secretary of State by claiming it was abandoned and sold it to its new resident, Rosi said. He likened it to the owner of a private parking lot taking someone’s car after they failed to pay to park — there’s a lengthy procedure for selling abandoned autos.
Joe Burgett and Tina Phillips joined Yamaoka as plaintiffs on what Rosi and other attorneys working with the litigants hope to become a class action lawsuit, Rosi said. The two claim a Sun Communities-run mobile home park in Muskegon took their home through the same process.
The practice appears to be far more widespread, said Greg Abler, an attorney with Center for Civil Justice. The legal services program became involved after Rosi and his firm partner asked for their help, Abler said.
“The more we looked into it, we saw that this happens on a fairly regular basis,” he said. “That certainly got our attention because any time you have a mobile home park just simply taking the title to your mobile home without you knowing about it or without compensating you for it, that’s a problem, and so that’s why we got involved.”
Town and Country resident William LaParr said he wasn’t aware of the lawsuit, nor had he heard of any of his neighbors facing a similar situation. But he wasn’t shocked.
“From living there and seeing the way they act and stuff, none of this surprises me,” he said.
LaParr has had his own run-ins with management, once having to show bank records to prove he paid his rent after management claimed he hadn’t, he said. He claimed the office at Town and Country is frequently empty, so getting a receipt for rent payments is often out of the question.
Judge Timothy Hicks of 14th Circuit Court in Muskegon rejected the request to certify the suit as class action, ruling that lease language Burgett and Phillips signed was different enough to consider them a separate class from Yamaoka, Rosi said. Hicks also ruled the two signed a lease that included language allowing the mobile home park owner to take ownership of Burgett and Phillips’ trailer.
Rosi said he rejects both rulings, and hopes the state Court of Appeals will do the same. That has the case on hold until the court decides whether to hear it.
David Adler, an attorney for Sun Communities, didn’t return multiple requests for comment. Messages left with Sun Communities weren’t returned either.
Yamaoka also is suing the Secretary of State in U.S. District Court, Rosi said, arguing there’s no state law authorizing the department’s process for obtaining title to an abandoned mobile home.
Applying for title to a mobile home, and the Secretary of State’s authority to issue one, is laid out in the Mobile Home Commission Act, State Attorney General Communications Director Kelly Rossman-McKinney said via email. She declined to comment further.
Shawn Starkey, Michigan Department of State communications director, declined via email to comment on the pending litigation.