ISLAND CITY — A years-long dispute between the landlord and a resident at Island City Mobile Manor has resulted in violations of Oregon’s moratorium on evictions, threats and acts of violence and a pool of backed-up human waste.
The ordeal began shortly after Steve Butcher, a contractor and mobile home owner, moved into the park in January 2019. Just a month later — in February — he came home to the smell of sewage leaking from his plumbing and pooling under his home.
Butcher hired a plumber to make repairs, then his pipes burst again, and again, for a year. Each time he fixed his plumbing, pressure built in the pipes and broke the seals, leading to what he called a “sewer pond” underneath his home.
“It’s been a continuous problem for quite some time,” Butcher said.
After once again repairing his plumbing in February 2020, he and the plumber decided to wait into the evening to observe what happened during peak use hours. When a flood of human waste came spewing out of the three-inch sewer pipe his home had been connected to, they knew they’d found the problem.
“Right as we were done replumbing it, it just blew up out of the ground … and just started, a full stream ahead of wastewater on us,” Butcher said. “It comes flying out of there and (the plumber) was like ‘Steve, this isn’t your house.’”
The plumber removed a clog of feminine hygiene products from the main sewer line more than 100 feet from Butcher’s home, which had been blocking the flow of sewage downstream and forcing his neighbors’ waste back up into his plumbing, causing it to burst.
Butcher said he went to Anita Smith, the owner and landlord at Island City Mobile Manor, immediately to notify her of the problem with the park’s sewer line. A dispute soon broke out between the two over who would cover the cost of the repairs to Butcher’s plumbing and the situation began to escalate.
Shortly after, Butcher said, the sewer line plugged once again, and raw sewage began spilling into his backyard from an access pit feet from his home.
The issue persisted, and in July 2020 — some 15 months after the sewage debacle initially began — Butcher decided to stop paying rent until Smith fixed the problem. He said he felt that she was not upholding her responsibilities as a landlord.
“I wasn’t getting no resolution to asking … so I gave her a letter that said I was going to not pay rent anymore,” he said.
On July 17, 2020, Butcher received a “144-hour notice to vacate for nonpayment of rent,” signed by Smith, warning him to pay his rent plus late fees by July 23 and that failure to do so would result in termination of his tenancy. Butcher provided a copy of the notice to The Observer.
Since April 1, 2020, late fees, eviction and threats of either for nonpayment of rent have been prohibited by Oregon law and executive order. They remain prohibited until June 1, following an extension during the Legislature’s Dec. 21 special session. The notice was unlawful when it was issued.
Butcher said that at least one other person in the park received an eviction notice on the same day. Other residents have asked not to be identified or declined to speak with The Observer due to fear of retaliation.
He did not pay and was not evicted, but Butcher has been accruing late fees ever since. According to a Dec. 1 statement Butcher provided to The Observer, the Mobile Manor had charged him for 25 days of late fees and was threatening to increase the daily fee from $2 per day to $20 per day.
Butcher also claimed that Carol Partney, Smith’s daughter and agent, came to his home on Sept. 3 and threatened to burn his house down if he did not pay rent. Partney declined opportunities to respond to the accusation.
Smith told The Observer there wasn’t a problem with the sewer system in her park and declined to comment further. Partney also denied there was any sewer problem and accused Butcher of dumping the sewage outside his home himself, then declined to comment further.
“I don’t know why Steve is doing this, but we have a lawyer and he is gonna get his a** in a sling here pretty soon,” Partney said. “As soon as all this COVID is over with, that guy is gonna get sued until the cows come home, and he doesn’t want to mess with me because I’ll throw every force after that a****** that I can.”
The Observer attempted to contact Partney, Smith and her attorney for additional comment and to respond to Butcher’s accusations. They did not reply.
The saga ultimately culminated in a violent confrontation between Butcher and Kelly Moore, Smith’s grandson and plumber, in November 2020 when Moore came to the park to work on the sewer line, which continued to spill waste into Butcher’s yard.
According to an audio recording of the incident provided by Butcher, he and Moore traded threats of violence that quickly escalated into physical aggression.
“To play it all over again, I wouldn’t have even went out there,” Butcher said. “They can deal with it on their own.”
The Observer attempted to contact Moore multiple times regarding the work he did in the park and the altercation with Butcher. He did not respond.
Incredibly, Butcher had tried to sell his home and move out of the Mobile Manor before his plumbing burst in the first place. He’d reached an agreement with a buyer, but Butcher said the sale was blocked by Smith because the buyer would have children in the home.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination based upon familial status, except in housing for persons 55 or older. The park is listed as a 55-and-up community by the state of Oregon under the name “Island Mobile Court,” but Butcher noted that he was below that age and children regularly reside in several homes in the park.
Other residents of the park, who spoke with The Observer on the condition of anonymity, said that Smith does rent to people younger than 55 and advertises the park as friendly to all ages.
A page for the Island City Mobile Manor on mhvillage.com, a website for buying and selling manufactured homes, listed the park as an “all-ages community” as of Monday, Dec. 28.
“She’s holding everybody freaking hostage there, and everybody’s scared because they don’t want to get kicked out,” Butcher said of the landlord. “I’m just done. This has really been frustrating.”
Butcher said that he’s been threatened, harassed and subjected to uninhabitable living conditions at the Mobile Manor — so much so that he has opted to leave the Grande Ronde Valley to take a job out of state. He said he feels that he’s been run out of the park by the owner, and he worries about the other residents in the park who can’t afford to leave.
“I hope for the sake of the people who can’t leave that this changes. Because they’re all living there in fear, walking on pins and needles and wondering when and if Anita will dislike something and make them move their home,” Butcher said.
As recently as Dec. 29, Butcher said that fresh sewage was still coming up in his backyard.