Judge: Cherry Lane a ‘public nuisance’; owner not allowed to sell
A Somerset County judge has declared the fire-damaged trailers at Cherry Lane Estates a public nuisance and ordered the mobile home park’s owner to clean them up within 90 days.
Judge Scott Bittner issued the order on Dec. 6. Somerset Borough filed two civil complaints against Divinity Investments and owner Thomas Mongold on Sept. 14, attempting to recoup more than $300,000 in past-due water and sewer bills, and force the cleanup of the trailers.
“The Land and the Homes . . . are hereby declared a public nuisance due to the physical and environmental dangers posed to the residents of the Cherry Lane Mobile Home Park and the general public due to the Homes’ presence on the Land, their state of neglect and abandonment, the condition of certain fire-damaged units, severe structural deficiencies and lack of adequate means to prevent access by trespassers, vagrants, scavengers, and rodents,” the judge’s order states.
Within 10 days of the order, all utility hookups within the abandoned trailers need to be shut off, according to the order.
Within 30 days Divinity Investments must secure the homes that it intends to repair and restore to a “habitable and safe condition” for rental or sale. Within 90 days, all the remaining homes listed in the order must be removed from the park at the owner’s expense.
Borough Manager Michele Enos said the utility shutoff would not affect residents who are still living in homes in the park.
“What is stated in the order is only those trailers that are damaged or are vacant,” she said. “It is not for any active trailers that people are living in.”
The order identifies 47 abandoned trailers and 14 fire-damaged trailers as being in disrepair. At a Nov. 27 hearing, Somerset Borough police Chief Randy Cox said he entered some of the properties and found the interiors were not secured from the elements.
“Generally I found them to be in poor condition,” he said.
Cherry Lane has been the site of 13 arsons and two attempted arsons since early May. Police also believe fires set on Sept. 18, 2016, and July 5, 2017, both at 122 Gary Lane, were set by the same individual, who remains at large.
Borough officials estimate the cost to demolish each trailer at $5,000 to $10,000.
The order also issues a special injunction prohibiting Divinity Investments and Mongold from selling the mobile home park without court approval.
At the Nov. 27 hearing, borough solicitor James Cascio said Divinity attorney Jack Sharpe called his office to report that the company would not be appearing in court and would not be providing a defense.
The Daily American contacted Sharpe, who said he did not receive a copy of the order. The Daily American emailed him a copy of the order but did not receive a response from the attorney Thursday.
Residents in the trailer park have been cleaning up some of the debris from the fire-burnt trailers. Harold Hollis said that if nature brings the buildings down, they are allowed to tear the trailers down the rest of the way. But if the trailers are still standing, they require a demolition permit.
“We’re trying to make it look a little better,” he said.
Enos said the borough has not heard from Mongold or Divinity Investments about obtaining a demolition permit.
“If (Mongold) wants to make it official, we would accept a letter, but he’s going to have to send that in writing,” she said.
Residents met with attorney Daniel Vitek, of the Community Justice Project, Thursday to discuss the court order and residents’ options. Vitek said there are several legal options for tenants to be more proactive in the future.
“Today’s meeting showed us the residents are very concerned about their own well-being, and motivated to correct the problems themselves if the ownership is not willing to do its job,” he said.
Enos said there are people interested in purchasing the park who have contacted borough officials.
“I have not had one-on-one conversation with those parties because we are in the middle of litigation,” she said.