Double eviction jeopardy

First they fled one mobile home park as its sale loomed. Now it's deja vu.

Published June 4, 2006

SEMINOLE - When Dick and Jean Marr found out that Parsley's Mobile Home Park had been sold to a developer, they simply moved out of their home of eight years.

Jean Marr, now 75, was ill and had been given only two months to live and Dick Marr did not want her to undergo the stress of living in a park that was in its death throes. Three years ago, he said, no one thought to fight.

So he took almost all of the couple's remaining savings and paid $15,000 for a trailer at Bay Pines Mobile Home Park. He and one of his sons spent the first months improving, cleaning and landscaping the place until they got it just right.

Then, last month, developer John Loder purchased Bay Pines for approximately $38-million.

As the news spread rapidly through the park, the Marrs were stunned. Loder was the developer who bought Parsley's and turned it into condominiums.

The Marrs found an eviction notice taped to their door May 25, followed by a certified, return receipt letter the next day.

"We got nailed by the same guy twice," Dick Marr, 78, said. "I hate to get snake bit twice by that guy."

This time, the Marrs say, will be different. This time, they'll stay and fight.

"We do love our home here," Jean Marr said. "We'll be here forever until they kick us out."

The Marrs are not alone. The Bay Pines homeowners association has already filed one lawsuit and promises more if necessary. At a meeting days after the sale, other homeowners contributed to a legal fund. Some owners have put up signs that say "Home NOT for sale."

The Bay Pines suit targets the attorneys who managed the trust that sold the park to Loder, alleging residents had contracts that promised it would remain a park until 2020.

Increasingly, Florida mobile home owners are turning to such measures to try to save their parks, as more and more are targeted for redevelopment.

In Pinellas, angry mobile home owners are lobbying legislators and local leaders for greater protections.

They have turned out in large numbers at city and county meetings to protest, and they're using lawsuits as a way to try to stop, or at least delay, the sales of parks.

They've even formed a regional advocacy group, called Floridians Against Injustice to Residents of Mobile/Manufactured Homes.

It is led by Leo Plenski, who, as head of the Bay Pines Homeowners Association, was involved in the fight against development even before a real threat against his own park materialized.

Marr, a former real estate appraiser, said he believes the property owner has the right to sell, but the homeowners also need to be considered.

"You can't restrict the owners from making money, that's the American way," Marr said. "What I do begrudge is taking my home - and it is my home, not a trailer - I begrudge them taking my home and only getting 1,300 bucks."

Under state law, mobile home owners receive $3,000 for a single-wide and $6,000 for a double-wide to help with the move. Those whose homes can't be moved receive $1,375 for a single-wide and $2,750 for a double-wide.

That does not begin to compensate owners for what many have put into their property, especially when most of the trailers, like theirs, are attached and cannot be moved, the Marrs said.

"It seems like a shame that they can come in and take your place from you," Dick Marr said. "The state's got to do something to stop this."

Marr concedes he and his wife realized they were taking a chance when they bought into another park where they would not own the land beneath the trailer. But it's all they could afford.

The Marrs have lived many places during their lives together - Maine, New Mexico and Seattle, Wash., where she worked in the printing department at the University of Washington. They moved to St. Petersburg in 1991 and bought their first home here four years later.

Soon after they moved in, an armed robber broke in and hit Dick Marr over the head with a gun.

So they moved to Parsley's Mobile Home Park, thinking Redington Shores would be safer. They paid $13,500 for a home on the canal where they could see the dolphins play and put another $5,000 into it.

Then Mrs. Marr caught a pneumonia-type virus.

And, while she was fighting that, they got notice the park had been sold. Dick Marr paid $15,000 for the Bay Pines trailer because "it was available. I was in a bind."

Besides, Mr. Marr said he "kind of liked the look of it."

With each move, the couple lost more money and equity. This time, they put less money into improvements, but much sweat equity into repainting, landscaping and other work.

They realized it was just a matter of time before a developer eyed the 55 acres, but they hoped it would not happen before they died. As both have emphysema, the hope did not seem unrealistic.

"Here we are on the second go-round," Dick Marr said. Between their health and the lack of money, "I can't move again."

But this time, there's hope that things might end differently.

"Parsley's was at a disadvantage," he said. "They didn't have a leader."

Bay Pines, he said, has Plenski.

And if the resistance works for long enough, Dick Marr may get his wish: to stay at Bay Pines until he and his wife both "go out in a box."