MEDINA, Texas - Some elderly residents of El Viaje Retreat in Medina who thought they had valid lifetime leases on their properties are now worried about being evicted because the property owners have filed bankruptcy.
Rob and Dee Roberson are two of those residents.
Their home features elaborate and expensive sculptures and gardens in the front and an array of decks, gazebos and walkways in back.
El Viaje is a place where many residents have brought in Park Model Homes, recreational vehicles and fifth-wheel trailers and built permanent structures around them.
Residents say this is anything but a mobile home community.
"Well, we've been building on it for 14 years," Dee Roberson said.
She said she and her husband signed a “lease for life” with the previous owner of the property, believing they would be able to live there until they died, paying only an extra yearly maintenance fee.
“We've put in a sprinkler system, we put in a termite system, we've put in a backup generator for the whole house. We planned to be here forever so it didn't seem like a waste of money,” Roberson said.
But because the current owners of the property have filed for bankruptcy, many of the residents here are worried.
Leslie Russell’s husband is 88 and she worries his home will be taken away.
"They're going to steal our home away from us and that's unconscionable," Russell said. “How anybody could steal your house and laugh about it and say I'm going to own your place.”
Residents like the Russells and the Robersons paid large lump sums when they moved in and signed a "lease for life."
Now the property owners have filed for bankruptcy and the leases have been declared unenforceable.
Their attorney, Carole Boyd, said this was fraud and wants a state court, not a bankruptcy court on the case.
"It's very volatile,” Boyd said. “And it's scary. I'm hopeful that if it gets remanded back to state court maybe we can do mediation."
If the case is not sent back to state court, residents fear they will be evicted and their property taken.
"That's theft, and especially theft done legally," Russell said. "We don't have the energy, the money or the strength to start over again. What do we do?"
Roberson added that it has been a long and expensive fight.
"We have put so much money into it already as far as legal fees and whatnot we can't just quit," Roberson said.
Messages were left for the owners or their attorney to comment on the situation in El Viaje, but there was no returned call or email.
One satisfied resident did email saying: “In MY OPINION, it would be in the tenants' best interest to have a lease that provided a definitive time frame and specific terms, rather than to have an "at will" lease. In MY OPINION, it would be in everyone's best interest to have maintainence (sic) fees that would cover the costs and provide a salary to the managers. The alternative would be that business could be forced into Chapter 7, and we would all be out of a place to live.”
Hopes among residents of El Viaje are that some agreement can be reached and they can stay in their homes.
The next court date is June 11.
At that time, the court could rule on whether the leases are rejected and if this matter will head back to state court.
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