Prince William moves to evict Holly Acres tenants

County officials are escalating efforts to evict low-income tenants in a Woodbridge mobile home park they say is unsafe, as the park’s lawyers continue to seek a resolution in court.

Holly Acres Mobile Home Park, off Route 1 in Woodbridge, has been the subject of a legal tussle in Prince William County since Tropical Storm Lee swept through the area in September. That storm inundated the area, caused massive flooding, wiped out trailers and left dozens homeless.

Holly Acres owner Hank Ridge has sued the county for $8 million, alleging officials have improperly barred him from rebuilding on the site. The county has said that it would be unsafe to rebuild a community that has had so many flooding problems.

The latest dispute is over eight mobile homes that were condemned by Prince William officials after the tropical storm. Since January, the owner and property manager have allowed residents to repair the homes and move back in, connecting the mobile homes to water and sewer service while running power cords to them from units hooked up to the power grid. They say they are not charging them rent to live there.

However, the park didn’t receive the proper permits to do so. In March, a Circuit Court judge rejected the mobile park owner’s argument that the units should be hooked up to the power grid and residents allowed to return.

“Someone called the County stating that electrical cords were being run across the park providing power to other trailers, which is a major hazard,” Jason Grant, spokesman for Prince William County, wrote in an e-mail late Friday.

County officials sought to evict the tenants last week. Police and property inspectors showed up Tuesday and threatened to arrest tenants. Firefighters came back Wednesday to do inspections during the July 4 holiday, and police again threatened arrest Thursday, the park’s lawyer and witnesses said.

Elesvan Cervantes, 41, lives in one of the mobile homes with his brother. He said the family is now staying with his sister and looking to move out of the county. Those in the other trailers have also left, he said.

“We never got to celebrate anything,” he said of the holiday. He said police have been harsh and that he heard one tell a young girl who answered the door that if her mother didn’t come out, she would be arrested.

“We do not want to arrest any of the people there,” Grant wrote in the e-mail. “We are hopeful that they will comply with the law so that it does not come to that. . . . However, it is against the law to occupy a unit that has been deemed unfit and unsafe for occupancy, and we believe the families are aware of the seriousness of the violation.”

Mark Moorstein, the mobile home park’s lawyer, had sought to get the issue in front of a Circuit Court judge before residents were evicted but was unable to do so last week.

“I don’t see an ounce of compassion [from the county] for what’s happening with these people,” Moorstein said. A motion filed in Circuit Court on behalf of the mobile home park owner says “the county’s actions are . . . nothing short of an abuse of its police power.”

They are asking the court to allow residents to stay until the courts make a final ruling on whether the park can be rebuilt and residents allowed to stay.

Jeremy Borden covers Prince William County, Va., for The Washington Post.
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