Home Sweet Horror

After discovering problems with their rented mobile home, one local couple learned nobody would help them

With a baby on the way, Linda Bugbee and her husband, William Plocar, have modestly decorated their southside mobile home for the holidays.

But they fear the unit's dangerous physical condition, combined with a lack of response to their pleas for help, may mean they'll soon have to move.

"Our safety is worth more than $325," Bugbee said, referring to the one month's rent deposit they'd lose if they move out at the end of the December. "I'm not happy celebrating the holidays here, but don't have any choice."

After simmering for months, the couple's frustrations with the unit's condition came to a boil in late November. An electrical outlet began sparking; Plocar used a fire extinguisher to stop it while calling the Rural/Metro Fire Department.

According to Rural/Metro spokeswoman Anne Marie Braswell, firefighters did not find a fire problem when they arrived, and utilized a visual-imaging camera to ensure there were no fires in the unit's walls. She also said the firefighters talked to the property manager about the outlet.

The property manager, who requested anonymity, insisted last week that the outlet and other electrical issues were quickly corrected, and two new smoke detectors were installed. "As far as I know, there's nothing else," he said.

But when the Weekly visited the home on Dec. 11, that certainly wasn't the case. One outlet was still dangling from its wires, while the breaker box in a bedroom closet had no cover, among other problems.

When informed of these issues, the property manager replied: "I thought the electrician had taken care of everything on the list. ... It might take a couple of days to get done."

While they indicate the electrician did show up after the Weekly contacted the property manager, Bugbee and Plocar said on Dec. 17 that the electrician still hadn't finished the work.

Plocar he's gotten similar responses since the couple moved into the unit at the end of May. Recalling they didn't have time to inspect the mobile home before occupying it--because their alternative was living on the street--Plocar remembered that he immediately pointed out numerous problems to the property manager, and was told they'd be fixed.

Pamela Peterson, who formerly lived in the mobile home, confirmed the unit's dilapidated condition. "Many of the outlets didn't work, and one bedroom isn't livable," she said.

The property manager responded: "The trailer is 40 years old. ... I told (Plocar) it had problems." However, the manager declared the mobile home safe, and added that Plocar "is always coming up with something. ... I've never had this problem before."

An electrician did show up shortly after the couple moved into the unit. Plocar recalled that the electrician fixed a couple of problems, but didn't finish the job and never came back. According to his notes, Plocar says he asked the property manager 43 times between early June and the end of November when the repairs would be completed.

"Every time I asked him, he would say the same thing: 'I'm trying to get a hold of my electric guy; he works long hours at his job, and it's hard to get him,'" Plocar said.

Fed up with the delays after the November electrical incident, the couple went looking for help from Pima County officials. What they experienced was a confusing array of regulations--rules that apparently mean the county can't assist them.

While code inspectors were sent out in response to the couple's calls, they didn't enter the mobile home. Yves Khawam, a chief building official for Pima County, explained: "Pima County doesn't regulate anything inside a manufactured home. We don't have an intergovernmental agreement with the state Office of Manufactured Housing, so we lack jurisdiction." He also acknowledged the county only inspects abandoned structures for building-code violations, not occupied homes of any type.

Khawam said that a few years ago, his department assembled a proposal to change that situation--but the estimated 20 inspectors required would cost $1.5 million annually. On top of that, providing social support for those affected could adds millions more in expenses.

"It's a huge undertaking," Khawam said. Because the proposed inspection program would be paid for using building permit fees--which have taken a nosedive recently--Khawam said, "It's been sitting on the backburner for the last year."

But at the same time, "We have a social obligation to people on the lower end of the economic scale to at least protect them," Khawam said.

The Arizona Office of Manufactured Housing only inspects owner-occupied units and recommends that renters pursue legal action under the state's Landlord-Tenant Act.

"The fire department can investigate (the couple's unit)," Khawam said, "but that's a double-edged sword"--because if the mobile home were found to be unsafe, Bugbee and Plocar could be evicted by Pima County.

According to Willie Treatch, fire marshal for Rural/Metro, his organization will do free inspections of mobile homes if called at 297-3600, ext. 4. But in unincorporated areas which are not covered by an adopted fire code--like the area where Bugbee and Plocar live--Rural/Metro can't mandate timelines for corrections.

As a result, a pregnant woman and her husband are living at Christmas time in a mobile home of dubious safety, with few options other than leaving.

But even if they move, Linda Bugbee said the issue wouldn't be completely resolved.

"I don't want someone (else) getting in here and dying or being injured," she said, "but I know it's going to happen."

adam kurtz William Plocar's rented mobile home remains unsafe.

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