Local News

State files lawsuit against RV park owners

Representatives of the new owners of Beacon RV park in Ilwaco, Wash., delivered eviction summons to tenants earlier this summer after previous attempts were rescinded or called unlawful by the state. Now the state says Michael and Denise Werner are in violation of landlord-tenant laws. Katie Frankowicz/KMUN

ILWACO, Wash. — The state has filed a lawsuit against the new owners of Beacon RV park, alleging the owners are ignoring their tenants’ legal protections.

The filing by the Washington Attorney General’s Office for a preliminary injunction comes on the heels of a cease and desist order issued in late July. Only a few days after the cease and desist order, Michael and Denise Werner of Deer Point Meadows Investments LLC ordered the demolition of several trailers at the RV park at the Port of Ilwaco.

All of this follows what the state, tenants and local advocates say have been multiple unlawful attempts by the Werners to force tenants to move since taking ownership of the park earlier this year.

In the cease and desist order, the state alleges the Werners violated numerous provisions of Washington’s landlord tenant laws. The state’s newest filing repeats these claims even more strongly, saying the Werners “have failed in their duties as a mobile home landlord at every turn.”

The Werners issued vacate notices the state later told them to rescind. Tenants say the Werners have threatened to turn off utilities and have not maintained the park since taking ownership, allowing garbage to pile up. The state noted a rodent infestation.

The state alleges the Werners have aggressively tried to intimidate tenants into moving and entered people’s homes, armed and without permission, to hand out unlawful eviction notices. The state alleges the Werners have also failed to offer tenants written rental agreements and have not allowed tenants to pay rent, among other issues.

And Beacon RV Park is not an isolated incident. In recent filings, the state noted complaints from more than 170 tenants at other properties the Werners operate. In 2019, the attorney general’s office issued notices of violation against Woodland East Manufactured Home Community after the Werners allegedly violated landlord tenant laws.

The Werners, who also own the company RV Inn Style Resorts, are already advertising Beacon RV as one of their locations available to campers.

But “the park is not an RV resort that provides ‘glamping’ accommodations,” the state contends. Rather, the state argues, the park was home to around 4.5% of Ilwaco’s residents, many of whom have lived there for years — some for decades.

“(The Werner’s) unfair and deceptive acts and practices have impacted the public interest,” the state concludes. “These practices constitute a pattern of conduct that (the Werners) committed in the course of business and for which (the Werners) continue to repeat and are likely to continue without relief from this court.”

Ilwaco Mayor Mike Cassinelli owned Beacon RV for around 30 years. He sold the business to the Werners in April for $1.5 million. The Werners hold a lease for the land with the Port of Ilwaco. Tenants and advocates have urged the port to cancel the lease with the Werners in light of their actions, but Cassinelli and Butch Smith, the chairman of the Port Commission, have have said there is little the city or port can do to address the issues at the park.

A port attorney Smith and other port commissioners consulted advised against trying to cancel the lease, but said the port should document and respond to any compliance issues.

In March, Beacon RV included 60 sites and was home to approximately 40 to 50 people, including elderly people and veterans. As many as 100 people have lived at the park in the past, according to local estimates.

Many of the tenants live off fixed or very limited incomes. County officials who first alerted the state to issues at the park worried about the tenants’ ability to find housing in Pacific County if they were displaced. It is already difficult to find any housing in the county, much less affordable housing. From the beginning, tenants told KMUN they needed more time to save money and figure out where to go next.

Most of Beacon’s tenants left in recent months — several with buyouts from the Werners, others because they needed to line up other options quickly and were afraid of what would happen if they stayed. Around 15 people still remain at the park and many are being represented by attorneys through Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services.

They told KMUN that the park has started to feel unlivable and they worry about what will happen to some of the most vulnerable residents — the very elderly, disabled and ill.

A hearing on the state’s motion for preliminary injunction is scheduled for Friday. KMUN reached out to the Werner’s attorney who said he would not comment on pending legal matters. The Werners have not responded to any requests for comment.

Various sources told KMUN that a settlement is under discussion between the Werners and the park’s remaining tenants, but no details have been released.

Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, noted that the tenants are free to take an offer from the Werners if they want.

But, she added, the Werners “cannot enter into agreements with the tenants to make our lawsuit go away, that would be between the state and defendants. We can still seek restitution and penalties regardless of what the tenants decide to do.”