Lewis River RV Park residents have obtained a court order to keep the electricity flowing beyond Tuesday’s scheduled cutoff, and the park’s owner has confirmed that he will make sure the lights stay on.
The Lewis River Homeowners Association, a recently formed entity representing the park’s residents, appeared in Cowlitz County Superior Court on Monday afternoon to ask for a court order compelling the residential RV park’s owner, Jerry Reeves, to maintain the power supply. In addition to relying on electricity for their RVs, tenants rely on well water delivered by an electric pump.
Reeves owned the park until March 2019. He regained ownership in mid-January but refused to create a new account with the Cowlitz Public Utility District, arguing that the prior owner still held the tenant contracts and should be responsible for paying the park’s utilities.
Cowlitz County and PUD staff stepped in to try to mediate the situation, and an initial power cutoff deadline of Jan. 16 was extended three times, but county commissioners declared last week that Tuesday would be the final deadline. In the meantime, the park residents began receiving legal assistance from the Northwest Justice Project.
The court granted the residents’ motion and ordered Reeves to open an account with the PUD by 10 a.m. Tuesday and to make regular payments to ensure continued power service. The order also imposed a Wednesday deadline for Reeves to contact Waste Management and set up regular garbage service (Cowlitz County has been providing a dumpster at the site in the interim).
If Reeves misses either of the deadlines, the order states that the court will appoint a custodial receiver who will be able to accept rent payment from residents and pay the utility providers to maintain service until Reeves begins to do so. The order also prohibits Reeves from retaliating against park residents, and states that all residents have a duty to pay timely rent.
Reached for comment on Monday evening, Reeves said he was working with PUD staff and had already created the account and paid the necessary fees. He said he would resolve the garbage service Tuesday.
A “show cause” hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 19 to determine whether the temporary restraining order should continue, and Reeves said he was looking forward to that hearing which would allow him to “tell our side of the story.”
Change of owners
Reeves is the park’s longtime owner, but in recent years the property has twice passed back and forth between Reeves and John Berman, an attorney based in Tigard, Ore.
Berman represents the Gail A. Reeves trust, which was created by Jerry Reeves’ late ex-wife. Gail Reeves was awarded a $7 million judgment against Jerry Reeves stemming from the divorce, and the balance of the judgment passed to the trust when she died.
Exercising the trust’s power to collect, Berman filed a writ of execution to have the park sold at auction in 2017, then bought it by bidding part of the money that Reeves still owed to the trust. The sale included an option for Reeves to reclaim the property by paying back the money within a year, which he did.
Berman then repeated the process, this time acquiring the park in March 2019. Again, Reeves paid back the sale price in December, setting him up to reclaim the park in January. But this time, Reeves argued that the residents were still tenants of Berman’s separate management entity and that it would be Berman’s responsibility to pay for the utilities.
He also alleged that Berman had failed to pass on any of the rental contract information, forcing Reeves to start from scratch. He said he was refusing to create his own power account because he did not want to be responsible for “Berman’s mess.”
Berman disputed both of those claims and told The Columbian that he cannot keep managing the park because he is no longer the owner. He said he had reached out to Reeves to try to coordinate a smooth management transition, but never received a reply.
Cowlitz County staff became involved in order to try to maintain utilities for the park residents, many of whom are low-income and would have difficulty moving. The park was home to an estimated 75 RVs as of mid-January.
At a meeting last week, Reeves told park residents that he intended to start fresh by reacquiring licenses for his own management company and signing everyone to new leases with a $600 deposit, which drew strong objections from the assembled residents.
Reeves later told The Columbian that he would waive that fee for residents who could prove that they were already living in the park under leases with Berman, again asserting that Berman had not passed on the contract information.
Reeves also told residents that he intended to sue Berman, and Cowlitz court records show that he filed a lawsuit on Jan. 29.