Retired seniors worried about losing homes over property line battle

New Mexico

RIO COMMUNITIES, N.M. (KRQE) – A group of seniors moved to what they once called a well-kept mobile home community to live out their golden years. But a battle between their property owner and a neighboring property owner now has some of those residents stuck in the middle, worried they could lose their homes.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Rio Communities near Belen, there’s a battle brewing behind-the-scenes.

“There’s so much to worry about,” Mac Baca, who lives in the Vista Del Rio mobile home park, told KRQE News 13.

“What would it mean for you to have to get up and move your whole home?” KRQE News 13’s Gabrielle Burkhart asked Baca.

“It would almost be like starting over. Just a complete pulling out roots and just having to go into debt again.”

Like most of his neighbors, when Baca retired years ago, he wanted something simpler. “We moved from a two-acre site with a 3600 square foot home, to a small single-wide, and it’s very low maintenance,” Baca explained.

But their peaceful retirement community in the Vista Del Rio mobile home park is now shaken. On top of rising rent costs, Baca and 14 other neighbors recently got a letter from an attorney representing Jill Cleary, the property owner behind their homes, saying their fences, sheds, and in some cases, their actual homes are encroaching on her land.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Mary Ann Fox said. Fox has lived in the same home 37 years, and had no idea there was a property line problem.

Aerial view showing some of the homes overlapping neighbor’s property line

The demand letter gives residents 60 days to move the encroachments, and if not, attorneys say they will seek a court order to force them to move property off Cleary’s land.

“The threat. I mean leave us alone,” Fox said. “You know, we’re an elderly group of people who just want to exist and go through our final years the best we can.”

The 84-year-old can’t afford to move her home and has nowhere else to go.

A recent land survey recorded with Valencia County shows Cleary is correct. Her property line happens to include the back portion of Vista Del Rio mobile home park, meaning 15 of the park’s residents have a property line cutting through their lots.

“These days, some of those older plats or lack thereof are coming back to haunt us, so to speak,” explained Gabriel Luna, the Valencia County Community Development Director.

As property gets passed on to different owners over the years, and when people buy and sell land, Luna says newer and more accurate surveys are taking place.

“If an old survey was never recorded or not recorded properly for the mobile home park, that could be an issue with neighbors,” said Luna.

He said that’s what may have happened here, and there’s not much the county can do about it. Luna said he hasn’t seen a property line problem like this affecting this many residents before.

“My concern is that the residents are gonna have to pay for that,” Vista Del Rio resident, John Fortier, told News 13.

Fortier has two large sheds and a back fence over the property line.

Triwinds, the company that owns Vista Del Rio, sent a response letter to its residents stating, “We understand that the identified encroachments have been in place for many years, and preexisted either our ownership of the Vista Del Rio Property, or the current ownership of our neighboring properties.”

The letter goes on to say, “Though we cannot provide any specific legal advice, we feel that this is a matter to be handled between property owners.”

KRQE News 13 reached out to Triwinds and Cleary’s attorney, but neither would agree to an on-camera interview.

Triwinds sent News 13 an email stating, “We have no comment while legal counsel actively pursues a resolution to the matter.”

Cleary’s attorney told News 13 over the phone that Triwinds is being “completely unreasonable,” and while they don’t wish to cause problems for people that live there, they are preparing legal action against the park’s owner.

“They’re just sitting on the problem,” said Fortier. He said he’s spoken with the property owner who’s threatening to sue the park and doesn’t hold it against her for trying to reclaim her property line.

But being stuck in the middle has neighbors scared. “They’re intimidated to the point where they’re actually in fear,” Fortier said of his neighbors.

With limited communication from the park’s owners, Fortier said it’s hard to believe Triwinds will protect their future there.

Fox, on the other hand, said it’ll take more than demand letters to get her to move.

When asked what it would take for her to move, Fox responded, “Death. I’m not gonna move, I’m very happy where I am,” said Fox.

The 60 days in the demand letter just passed and none of the 15 residents have moved their encroachments. KRQE News 13 asked if Cleary would be willing to sell the portion of land to the mobile home park, but her attorney says it is not for sale.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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