Imagine your morning routine without tap water. You wake up, roll out of bed and instead of turning on the faucet, you grab a bottle of water. You use bottled or boiled water to brush your teeth, cook breakfast or make your coffee.
That’s exactly what many residents of Sun Tides, a mobile home community for those older than 55 near Gleed, have been doing daily for the past two months after E. coli was discovered in their drinking water well.
A boil water advisory was issued to residents Nov. 18. Since then, they have had to either boil their water or buy bottled water while Hurst & Son, the property’s owner, and officials from the Washington State Department of Health work on the problem.
Residents, many of whom were not named due to fears of retaliation, have been upset by the lack of communication and help from Hurst & Son. They said the situation is made worse by the loss of other amenities and rising rents.
“It’s not right for a corporation to do this to older people,” said Brian, a resident who gave his first name.
Levi Black, field manager for Hurst & Son, is hopeful that the E. coli issue will be resolved soon. He said Hurst & Son has completed repairs ordered by the Department of Health and is awaiting the final round of testing.
If the tests show no sign of E. coli, water use can return to normal, said Joseph Perkins, the Department of Health official who worked with Hurst & Son on this case. Perkins, who works on similar E. coli cases, was still cautious.
“I wish I could give an update,” he said. “We don’t want to give people the impression that it’s back to normal, because currently it’s not.”
Two months of E. coli
Residents received a letter from Hurst & Son in November, warning them that E. coli had been detected in the water supply. Sun Tides is on its own water system, so neighbors are not at risk.
The notice urged residents to use “boiled or purchased bottled water for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and food preparation until further notice.”
The notice also listed symptoms of E. coli infection, including diarrhea, cramps, nausea and headaches. Perkins added vomiting to the list and said anyone experiencing symptoms should see a doctor.
Since then, many residents said they have been left in the dark. They have received no other formal communication or update from Hurst & Son aside from the initial letter, which was hung on their door in November.
Black, the field manager, put his phone number on the letter and said a dozen residents have called to receive updates.
Residents at Sun Tides said they haven’t always been able to get through to Hurst & Son officials and they have had inconsistent interactions with the property manager.
They added that water pressure has also been a problem recently. Many have turned to bottled water, Brian said, and have little confidence in what trickles out of the faucet.
“You turn it on and it stinks, it reeks,” he said.
Residents said the water smelled like bleach. If they leave it to sit for a while, it will turn brownish gray, they said. Black said residents could still technically use the water after they boil it for one minute.
One resident who reached out to the Yakima Herald-Republic was unsure when the problem would end or what the next few months might look like.
Another resident said purchasing bottled water costs them $100 a month. Brian added that residents used extra gas and electricity to boil the water, incurring more expensive utility bills. The laundry facilities, which are near the well, have been closed. Residents must also now drive to and pay for services at a laundromat.
A resident who had family in the area said they would make 20-mile round trips just to shower. Others had no choice and washed up in their homes.
One resident who lived at Sun Tides before Hurst & Son purchased the property in 2020 said that previous landlords and property managers would give residents gallons of water in similar situations.
There’s been no compensation for residents from Hurst & Son, though. Black noted that residents technically still have water.
“They still have the ability to use the water; they just have to boil it,” he said.
solving the problem
Hurst & Son has been working to clean the water, said Perkins. He added that this process was relatively normal, though there were a few speed bumps.
“This one is taking a little bit longer,” Perkins said. “Part of that is the number of fixes we found; part of it is because the sample was found in the well.”
Hurst & Son conducts monthly tests of the water at Sun Tides. After an initial test found E. coli in the well, a boil water advisory is issued to residents. Perkins said the Department of Health directs landlords to distribute that notice.
“It’s the water system’s responsibility to do that. We tell them they’re required to,” Perkins said. “Once it’s confirmed, they have 24 hours to give notice to residents, within reason.”
Perkins then came to inspect the water system. E. coli is commonly found in the guts of warm-blooded animals and can get into a water system when human or animal waste contaminates it.
The inspection uncovered several worn parts of the water system in need of replacing, as well as a septic tank and toilet that should be moved, Perkins said.
Black said Hurst & Son has followed those recommendations.
“They gave us the list of repairs, we completed them and we’re just waiting for the OK,” he said. “We don’t ask for anything like this to happen and we work diligently to prevent it.”
“The company that’s been working with us has been working well,” Perkins said.
Perkins said the Department of Health will continue to monitor the situation. If E. coli is still found in the water system, however, Hurst & Son could be required to install new systems at Sun Tides.
Perkins said that could leave residents in this situation for up to a year.
Rising rents and costs
Three years ago, rent at Sun Tides was $390 a month, Brian said. It went up to $490 in 2021 and $535 in 2022. This year, it’s $610.
In 2013, rent was $290, said a resident who has lived there for at least a decade. In the three years that Hurst & Son has owned the property, rent has gone up by $220. That increase is steep, even adjusted for inflation. Adjusted for inflation using information from the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, rents rose 20% between 2013 and 2020. Since Hurst & Son bought the property, monthly rent has risen almost 36%.
Brian said water problems and rent have compounded frustrations with Hurst & Son. Residents noted a lack of lighting and closed laundry facilities. Recently, they had been asked to pay for their own garbage services, they said.
Many residents said they don’t have a lot of options besides Sun Tides. The community is for older residents, many of whom are on fixed income, Brian said. Even with rising rents and a poor water situation, there are few places to go. There’s a community at Sun Tides, a support network that helps feed some residents.
“We try to help each other as best we can,” Brian said.
Some residents rely on that support network to get by. Besides, Brian said, Hurst & Son owns many other mobile home communities in the Yakima area.
Black said raising rents is consistent with Hurst & Son’s strategy.
“When Hurst & Son acquires a property, it’s because the rent is below market and we try to bring it up to market,” he said.
Sun Tides isn’t the only community where high rents have been implemented. Residents at Valley Community, another community owned by Hurst & Son, are facing homelessness.
Black said Hurst & Son has abided by Washington law when raising rents. They gave residents notice three months before rents were raised in January.