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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Korean American senior couple at risk of eviction over home construction

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Samuel Kim is showing the legal documents to a Korea Daily reporter.


A Korean American senior couple, Samuel Kim (78) and Hwa Pyeong Kim (75), find themselves embroiled in a legal eviction dispute at the Rancho Fullerton Mobile Home Park, a senior-only community in Orange County.

Moving into Rancho Fullerton from Texas in May 2022, they purchased their mobile home for $120,000, paying a monthly space rent of $950. After settling in, they received clearance from the California Department of Housing & Community Development in June 2022 to erect an enclosed porch extension, with a completion deadline of December 6, 2022. The park manager also gave their consent.

Tapping into his home improvement skills and sustaining on a $1,900 monthly pension, Samuel Kim took on the construction personally. “We strictly adhered to state regulations and were on track to meet the permit deadline,” he asserted. However, complications emerged when construction equipment remained in their yard.

Park manager Andrea West insisted that the construction materials stored on the side of the property be cleared promptly. Amid this predicament, Samuel sustained a severe thumb injury, which resulted in a severed finger. His doctor subsequently deemed him unable to work on construction for six months.

This medical assessment led the California Department of Housing & Community Development to grant an extension for their construction project to June 2023. In spite of adhering to the park’s cleanup demands, the Kims encountered legal challenges over minor infractions, such as a broom and flower pots on their porch.

Their limited English proficiency made communications challenging, yet they tried their best to convey their compliance to the mobile home park manager. When they received an eviction letter in April 2023, the Kims braced themselves for a legal confrontation. Equipped with their documentation, evidence, and translations provided by neighbors, they appeared at the Santa Ana courthouse for an eviction hearing in June.

Regrettably, even with assistance from a Korean interpreter, the Kims found it overwhelmingly challenging to prevail against seasoned attorneys. They lost the case and were saddled with $12,000 in legal fees on top of the eviction notice.

Undaunted, Hwa Pyeong Kim narrated her ordeal at a Fullerton City Council public hearing, capturing the attention of Mayor Fred Jung. The Fullerton Observer, a local newspaper, highlighted their saga, emphasizing the linguistic challenges that exacerbate the struggles of low-income minority seniors.

A friend of the couple stepped forward to sponsor the Kims’ legal representation. Owing to the intervention, the eviction proceedings have been temporarily halted. Interestingly, the mobile home park lost a wrongful eviction lawsuit in 2021 — a similar incident that transpired shortly before the Kims moved in.

Andrea West, the park’s manager, opted not to comment on the Kims’ current legal dispute. For now, they are not being charged rent, and a date for the appeal hearing remains undetermined. If the appeal proves unsuccessful, the Kims face the grim prospect of eviction.

The community and local media remain vigilant, closely monitoring the unfolding events. With legal battles being costly and draining, especially for seniors with limited resources and language barriers, the case underscores the importance of accessible legal aid and fair housing practices. The Kims’ resilience in the face of adversity and the support they’ve garnered from the community exemplify the larger struggles faced by immigrant seniors across the country.

BY YEOL JANG    [jang.yeol@koreadaily.com]