Residents of the Farmers Korner Mobile Home Park in Summit County have faced a monthlong stint without running water in their homes, according to recent court filings.
The water issues prompted inquiries from both the Summit County Public Health Department and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, or DOLA, which issued a cease and desist order against the park’s landlord on Jan. 3 that was then enforced by a motion filed by Attorney General Phil Weiser on Jan. 12.
DOLA told Farmers Korner landlord Lori Cutunilli it received a complaint Dec. 23 that certain residents at the mobile park had been “without running water and/or reasonable amounts of water” for about a month, according to its cease and desist order.
DOLA says it has “reasonable cause to believe” Cutunilli violated state law by failing to provide restrooms to affected residents within 12 hours of losing running water and for failing to provide “running water and/or reasonable amounts of water” to residents within 24 hours of the issue occurring, according to the order.
Weiser’s motion claims Cutunilli was unable to restore water by Jan. 6, a violation of the deadline outlined in DOLA’s cease and desist, and it laid out several potential violations of the Mobile Home Park Act.
Cutunilli, in an interview with the Summit Daily News, said she became aware of the issue near the end of November. She said she expects water to be running and safe to use by Wednesday, Jan. 18.
“This was completely unforeseen, terrible timing,” Cutunilli said. “But I do feel like we moved forward as quickly as we could given the circumstances.”
Cutunilli said she took residents’ concerns seriously from the beginning of the incident and said she’s been in contact with residents, as well as officials, on a daily basis.
One affected resident who spoke with the Summit Daily said he felt Cutunilli should have acted quicker after he reached out about his low water pressure at the end of November. Despite water fixes for some men, his running water stopped around Christmas.
“I’m basically camping inside my trailer,” said Jeff Rank, a 52-year-old who has lived in the park since 1998. “It’s honestly depressing … I’ve always had running water my whole life. I never thought I’d be in this situation.”
Last year, Rank said he and other residents were told by Cutunilli that all underground water lines would be replaced by summer 2022, which did not happen.
Cutunilli confirmed she had plans to replace the lines last summer, but orders for parts were delayed by months, she said, which made her decide to wait until this coming summer. Cutunilli said the current lines are as old as the 1970s — when her family her purchased the park — and have not been replaced since.
‘Can you imagine, over a month without water’
Rank said his water pressure lowered substantially by Nov. 27 — to the point where he claims his shower wouldn’t run.
He filed a complaint with DOLA on Nov. 28 but did not get a response until Jan. 5, according to emails he provided to the Summit Daily. Christina Postolowski, who manages regulatory oversight for the state’s Mobile Home Park Oversight Program, said in response to Rank: “We had staff turnover right after your complaint was filed, and it was only recently brought to my attention.”
Postolowski’s email came two days after DOLA issued its cease and desist order on Jan. 3. She wrote to Rank that the department had received another complaint about the water issues and that both were combined into one case which the department would be investigating.
Due to the ongoing investigation, a DOLA spokesperson said it “cannot share any investigative reports or comment further at this time,” in response to a Summit Daily request. The spokesperson did, however, provide the court filings.
Mateo Lozano, who represents the Summit County region for the Latino-advocacy group Voices Unidas, said he reach out to the county’s public health department on Dec. 21 and filed a complaint with DOLA on Dec. 23 after he was contacted by park residents who told him they had no running water.
Having advocates for the Latino community was crucial for residents, according to Lozano, who said many mobile home residents in Farmers Korner are Spanish-speaking. Javier Pineda, co-founder and program coordinator for Mountain Dreamers — an immigrant advocacy group based in Frisco — said his organization was contacted on Dec. 23 by residents who were asking for help.
“The fear of retaliation from landlords is a very common thing in this community,” Pineda said. “Immigration status comes into play and adds another barrier … oftentimes people need a mediator, like Mountain Dreamers, to help.”
Both Pineda and Lozano said they’ve gone door to door surveying the park’s residents. Pineda said he believes more than 20 people have gone without water at some point in the past two months and said it wasn’t until officials became involved residents that began seeing impactful results.
But he wished the answer could have come sooner.
“Can you imagine, over a month without water, a complaint filed and no action?” Pineda said. “It took a little bit to get them going, but now it’s a machine that can’t be turned off.”
Rank said he felt the situation “wasn’t taken seriously at all” until the state’s legal action.
“There’s families that are living here, there’s people,” he said. “It’s kind of negligent.”
‘We’re going to keep an eye on this’
Cutunilli said initial water issues in late November affected nine homes and were the result of frozen underground pipes — though she also said it could have been caused by mobile homeowners who “were not prepared for the cold” because they had not had proper heat tape connecting the underground pipe to their unit.
Heat tape is an electrical cable that can be coiled around pipes to prevent freezing. Without it, breaks can occur in the above and even underground piping, leading to leaks. Cutunilli said this was the case for some residents, but Rank, the mobile homeowner, said he thinks the issue had more to do with the age of pipes and lack of maintenance.
Rank claimed his unit never had leaks and provided group text messages between Cutunilli and other residents who said they also did not have leaks.
Throughout December, Cutunilli said she brought plumbers and utility inspectors to the site to fix the damaged pipes. According to Weiser’s motion, Cutunilli had been using the services of three people who are not licensed plumbers until she retained one plumber to assist with repairs on Jan. 6.
Water had been restored to a row of homes by Dec. 30 once a temporary pipe was installed, according to DOLA’s cease and desist order. But at least nine homes still remained without running water “and/or reasonable amounts of water,” DOLA stated.
Those residents have continued to face issues since, though water could be returned as soon as Wednesday, Cutunilli said. Rank, who faced on-and-off water supply since November, said he is among the residents who lost water completely in late December.
Cutunilli said she’s worked to meet residents’ needs however she can. Lozano, the representative for Voces Unidas, said Cutunilli has made “some honest efforts to fix” the problem, but she said “those fixes were not enough.”
Lozano said residents have told him they want a long-term replacement for the existing piping. He added that, as residents continue to weather the winter, more freezes could happen even with a temporary pipe in place.
“When you put a pipe above ground, it’s more likely to freeze, and that’s what’s happening,” Lozano said. “We’re going to keep an eye on this.”
‘Improving the quality of life for people’
Rank said over the past weeks he would shower, wash dishes and do laundry at a friend’s house in Silverthorne, though that option wasn’t always available to him.
The longest Rank said he’s had to go without a shower has been a week and a half. He also said his bathroom at one point filled with sewage due to the broken pipes, and his faucet spewed the same.
Other residents relied on the Breckenridge Recreation Center for showers, according to Lozano. But for some low-income families, a pass for the center became too much of a financial burden to keep.
Cutunilli said reimbursed residents for their recreation passes, provided a spigot for portable water as well as waived their February rent.
She added, “I take their comfort very seriously.”
According to text messages provided by Rank, Cutunilli said she made a bathroom available to residents in the park’s office on Dec. 19. DOLA stated in its cease and desist order that Cutunilli provided portable toilets on Dec. 30 and stated “this was more than 12 hours after the water service disruption began.”
County provided a three-station shower officials and restroom trailer for residents on Jan. 8, according to Wesier’s filing. As of the publication of this article, county officials have not responded to a request for comment.
Advocates for the residents said the incident illustrates the vulnerabilities of living in a mobile home which, for some individuals and families, is their most affordable option in Summit County.
Residents “get cornered into spaces that they wouldn’t regularly go to,” said Lozano. “If there was more affordable housing made accessible to the general public, I don’t think you would have these issues.”
Lozano said that several residents have been unwilling or hesitant to speak about their experience for fear of drawing too much attention from state officials.
“They don’t have anywhere else to go if their space gets taken away,” Lozano said. “We’ll do anything it takes to make sure that we are improving the quality of life for people instead of displacing.”
Rank said he’s looking to sell his mobile unit and move to housing that’s more stable. But he has yet to find anything near the rent he pays for his lot of it, which is $850 a month.
“It’s not bad for Summit County,” he said, “but it’s kind of tough to move right now, financially.”