Some residents and former residents of an Easton area 55-plus mobile home park community in Northampton County are trying to bring a class-action suit against the park's owner and various companies he operates.
The suit was originally filed by eight current and former residents of Jacobs Farms in Forks Twp., Northampton Co., on May 17 in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.
However, last Thursday, they filed an amended complaint in Northampton County Court asking that their suit against Quixote Ventures, 325 West Paxinosa Road, Easton; Lifetime Manufactured Homes, 51 Penny Lane, Easton; Chestnut Hill Corp., 3959 William Penn Highway, Palmer Twp., and Albert Jinks, be heard in Easton.
Atty. James W. Sutton III, of Feasterville, Bucks Co., told WFMZ.com that he brought the suit to Northampton County after preliminary objections were filed by attorneys for Jinks and his companies against having the suit heard in Philadelphia County.
He said he expects the court will decide in the next few months if the case qualifies as a class-action suit. "There are 120 homes in the neighborhood and we have about three-fourths of them as clients," he said. "We represent about 80 homeowners in the community."
The suit says Jinks violated Pennsylvania's Mobile Home Park Rights Act and the federal Fair Housing Act by requiring Jacobs Farms' residents to purchase decks, porches, garage bays and other upgrades from companies he owns or controls, and then adding an undisclosed surcharge for materials.
Sutton said that "the driving force" of the lawsuit, Jacobs Farms resident Ellen Klein, who lives at 683 San Simeon Place, was told by Jinks that she had to use Lifetime Manufactured Homes if she wanted to have the deck of her home extended. "She had another contractor price out the work, and it was substantially less than what Lifetime was asking," Sutton said. "But she was told she didn't have a choice in the matter."
Jinks also violated the law, the suit says, by not disclosing water and sewer tap-in fees. Sutton said that Klein spoke with the Easton Suburban Water Authority and discovered that Jinks charged her hundreds of dollars more than the standard tap-in fee.
The suit claims uniform leases were not provided to the residents. According to Sutton, to finish off the development, Jinks offered to waive lease fees for two years as an incentive to buyers. "The state [Mobile Home Park Rights] act says the owner can't charge different fees for similar units," Sutton noted.
The suit also accuses Jinks of going back on a 25-year "affordability guarantee" that caps that annual community fee increases to the rise in the Consumer Price Index. Sutton said that guarantee was especially important to the people Jinks sold to, because they are elderly and many are on fixed incomes.
Jinks and his companies acted in a "predatory fashion" toward the residents and former residents, and threatened to terminate their leases, raise fees and start legal action against them if they objected, the suit says.
"These people own their own homes, but not the land it sits on,"
Sutton said. "They are even more terrified that if something goes wrong, they can be evicted."
The suit does not ask for a specific amount in compensatory damages, but if the court accepts it as a class-action suit, the amount could be tripled.
Jinks' attorney, Devin J. Chwastyk, told WFMZ.com, "Quixote Ventures believes these claims are legally baseless, and will vigorously defend this lawsuit. Quixote Ventures looks forward to an opportunity to bring all the relevant facts to light, which will show the allegations made in the complaint are groundless."