Local News

Beacon RV owners face penalties

ILWACO, Wash. — A Washington state judge has ordered that the owners of an RV park in Pacific County violated the customer protection act when they tried to illegally evict tenants last year.

On Thursday, Judge Katherine Svoboda issued an order granting partial summary judgement in the lawsuit filed by the Washington Attorney General’s Office against Michael and Denise Werner

The judge agreed with the state that the Werners illegally tried to evict tenants of Beacon RV Park in Ilwaco before they had full ownership of the park, and that they did this through deceptive notices and threats — and continued to use those illegal notices as the basis for further attempts to remove tenants even as others, including police and their own realtor, warned them that their actions were inappropriate.

Judge Svoboda has imposed a total of $926,500 in penalties against the Werners. This includes an enhanced penalty because the Werners targeted protected classes of people including the elderly, disabled, veterans and low income.

The Werners have also been ordered to pay the state’s attorney costs and fees.

The Werners could not be reached for comment.

Judge Svoboda’s ruling partially resolves the state’s case against the Werners. The lawsuit is still ongoing regarding Washington’s Manufactured Housing Landlord Tenant Act. Earlier this year, an administrative law judge had ruled the Werners violated the state landlord-tenant law during and after their push to evict Beacon RV tenants.

But Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the recent order is significant.

“The magnitude of this penalty reflects the Werner’s egregious abuse,” he said in a statement.

The Werners own and operate dozens of mobile home and RV parks in Washington. This is not the first time they have faced complaints and legal issues when it comes to how they operate their properties. The state has noted complaints from more than 170 tenants at other properties. In 2019, the attorney general’s office alleged the Werners violated landlord-tenant laws at a manufactured home community in Woodland, Wash.

In her conclusion, Judge Svoboda agreed that the Werners have repeatedly engaged in similar illegal conduct at other parks they own and there is the potential they will do so again.

In court filings, the state pointed to instances when the Werner’s employees referred to Beacon RV residents in derogatory ways, Denise Werner called them “filth” and Michael Werner made statements indicating he didn’t care about the Beacon residents’ rights.

The Werners purchased Beacon RV in 2022 from former owner Mike Cassinelli, the current mayor of Ilwaco. The purchase gave them rights to the business, but the land is leased from the Port of Ilwaco. At the time, the Werners told port officials they were interested in offering short term rentals at the park, not the long term residencies Cassinelli had allowed.

The Werners’ attempts to evict tenants and other actions they took at the park — including the presence of armed employees and threats to shut off utilities — rattled tenants and other Ilwaco residents and city officials, who called for the city and the port to take action to prevent the displacement of Beacon RV tenants.

Port and city leaders ultimately said there was little they could do, but both the state and Pacific County intervened over issues at the park.

In a letter to the Attorney General’s Office in the spring of 2022, county representatives wrote that, given the lack of affordable housing in Pacific County, eviction would be devastating.

The park has been home to anywhere from 45 to 100 people, most of them among Ilwaco’s most vulnerable residents, living with disabilities and on fixed or limited incomes. Many had lived at the park for years.

Tenants told KMUN they were afraid to leave their RVs except at night, worried that their possessions would be seized and their homes towed if they left them . Few had the resources to quickly find a new place to live. And anyway, they told KMUN, their options were limited or nonexistent.