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Tribes move to evict mobile home park manager after years of unpaid rend, residents to be unaffected
The Colorado River Indian Tribes have moved to evict the manager and lease holder of the Water Wheel Camp Recreation Area, a mobile home park on tribal land in California.
Robert Johnson has managed Water Wheel for several years but his lease ran out in July. The CRIT tribal council evicted Johnson on Oct. 1 and will take over management of the park. CRIT is also seeking damages because Johnson has refused to pay his rent for the last two years, according to CRIT Chairman Daniel Eddy Jr.
“Mr. Johnson has overstayed his lease and he owes the Tribes a substantial sum of money,” Eddy said. “The Tribes have been extremely patient with Mr. Johnson despite his longtime refusal to adhere to the community’s laws as a sovereign nation or to the BIA’s regulation as a federal authority. That patience has come to an end.”
Johnson has also reportedly threatened to evict tenants at the park who wish to pay their rent directly to the tribes instead of him. CRIT Council Member Herman “TJ” Laffoon stressed that the legal action would have no bearing on the residents currently living in the park.
“The Tribes have no intention of terminating the rights of sub-lease holders to be in the park,” Laffoon said. “We hope that they all choose to stay provided that they continue to comply with their rental agreements.”
The Water Wheel lease was originally negotiated 32 years go by the Bureau of Indian Affairs at a price of $100 per acre, or $2,600 a year. Johnson has collected well over a half-million dollars a year in rent over the past six years. Johnson also operates a small shop on the property from which he pays the tribes a percentage of gross sales on alcohol and other goods.
CRIT Attorney General Eric Shepard said that these severely under-market-value leases with the BIA were common many years ago – a sore subject with many tribes that has sparked litigation -- and that one prime property along the banks of the Colorado, for example, is still being leased for $200 a year.
Under the terms of the lease, CRIT and Johnson were to renegotiate the base rent in 2000, adjusting it to the current, fair market rental value of the property. Despite a series of appraisals and negotiations, CRIT and Johnson never reached an agreement on the annual base rent for the last six years of the lease.
The BIA appraised the fair market value at $101,500 per year, while Johnson, having obtained his own appraisal, maintained that the land was worth only $14,503. Johnson paid the Tribes $14,503 in 2001 and 2002, then lowered the rent for himself back to $2,600 a year. In 2006, he quit paying altogether.
According to CRIT records Water Wheel paid the Tribes only $48,710 in base rent over the past seven years and $33,019 in gross sales proceeds for a total of $81,730. During that same period, Shepard estimated that Johnson took in well over $5 million in gross receipts.