Water woes for last Bob’s Trailer Park residents land in court
Rochester park owner ordered to restore water after nearly a month of interrupted service.
ROCHESTER — A handful of residents legally remaining at Bob’s Trailer Park are receiving daily deliveries of bottled water nearly a month after water service to the property was discontinued.
“I was in the shower getting ready for work and the water went out,” park resident Teresa McConnell said Monday afternoon during a court hearing in an attempt to remedy the situation.
McConnell, who lives with Norma Hanson in one of five legally occupied trailers in the park, filed one of three cases against the park through Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.
Rochester Public Utilities discontinued service on Nov. 17 after wiring, fuses and plumbing were removed from the on-site house that has sat vacant since the former property manager was evicted, according to Cassandra Jakobson of Jakobson Property Management, which currently oversees the park at 1915 Marion Road SE.
The disconnection was reportedly to ensure the utility's meter and other equipment wasn't damaged in freezing weather.
The management company, hired by Pennsylvania-based TSJ Parks LLC, has been delivering bottled water to the park’s tenants and working to find housing alternatives for them, Jakobson said.
The loss of water follows a six-day, park-wide electrical outage, the result of an Oct. 28 trailer fire .
On Monday, Olmsted County District Court Referee Erin Felten ordered TSJ Parks to take action.
“I am ordering steps to be taken to get the water restored,” she said, echoing a written Dec. 5 emergency order.
Jakobson said the issue isn’t as simple as turning on the tap, since heat must be restored to a residence before RPU is willing to restore a water meter, which could be damaged if the water freezes. She estimated a furnace will cost $4,000, with unknown costs related to new pipes and wiring.
She also predicted the added expense wouldn’t provide a long-term solution.
“If we made repairs and provided heat, probably overnight they would be taken out again,” she said, pointing to similar thefts from some of the 14 vacant trailers at the park, as well as people who have been found living in tents, sheds and empty trailers at the site.
She said the Rochester Police Department has increased patrols to the park, but thefts continue to occur.
Felten said the potential for vandalism is speculative and the argument against making repairs appears to be solely financial.
“I understand we are not in a great situation,” she said, also raising concerns about the number of vacant trailers that remain in the park that is expected to be closed next year.
TSJ Parks purchased the trailer park for $1.3 million in 2021, initially saying it planned to improve the site, but announced plans earlier this year to close the park and eventually build a 30-unit low-income, senior housing complex on the property.
Several residents have been evicted over unpaid rent, but others own their trailers, which spurs a specific process for closing the park.
McConnell and Hanson rent the trailer they occupy, with Hanson initially moving to the park in 2016 and McConnell joining in 2018.
They have been offered housing in a South Broadway Avenue hotel, but they both said the accommodations won’t meet their needs, especially since Hanson relies on a wheelchair and two service dogs.
“We have everything we need here, except for water at this point,” McConnell said from her home during Monday’s online court hearing.
Rochester attorney Travis Ohly said the proposed hotel accommodations have been remodeled, are accessible and will allow the dogs.
However, Felten said nothing was presented to show that the proposed hotel room was equal to the trailer’s accommodations, so she didn’t see it as an acceptable alternative.
At the same time, the judge said, she didn’t want to order a specific housing solution. Instead, she said attorneys for both parties could continue to work on finding an alternative acceptable to both sides.
Felten ordered TSJ Parks to pay a $250 fine to McConnell and Hanson, with the case to be revisited on Dec. 20, when a similar case filed by park resident Tammy Hofbauer is scheduled for a hearing.