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Elderly Woman Faces Eviction in Dispute Over $22 Utility Payment

December 18, 1988|CRAIG QUINTANA | Times Staff Writer

EL MONTE — This will be Virginia Clapp's last Christmas in the place she has called home for 18 years.

Her family being far flung, the 72-year-old invalid usually spends the holidays alone in her mobile home. She said she doesn't mind. "I had all my Christmases years ago," she said.

But just more than a week before the holiday, Clapp is being ousted from her familiar surroundings at the Capri Gardens Mobile Home Community. On Monday, Rio Hondo Municipal Court Commissioner William L. Jacobsen ruled against Clapp in an eviction proceeding brought by her landlord in a rent dispute.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," said a distraught Clapp. "I don't have anywhere to move to."

George L. Liddle Jr., the attorney who represented Capri Gardens' owner, Temple City-based Ricberay Inc., said it is unlikely that Clapp will be served her final eviction papers until after the holidays.

"There's kind of an unwritten policy in the courts that things like that don't happen between now and Christmas," he said. "It's extremely unpleasant. I think everyone feels sorry for the woman."

But William Cushman, a friend of Clapp's who helped file her eviction defense, accused the landlord of trying to take advantage of the elderly woman's infirmities.

The rent dispute involved a $21.99 surcharge for utilities that Clapp did not pay with her normal $175 rent for June. When her monthly rent notice was delivered to her home, the wheelchair-bound Clapp was in the hospital recuperating from a fall.

"I'm surprised that they would do something like that to someone who had been there for 18 years over (the disputed sum of) $22," Cushman said.

From the hospital, Clapp sent landlord Bruce Bender a $175 rent check, which he refused to accept because it did not include payment for the utilities, according to court filings.

When Clapp did not respond to Bender's letter demanding full payment within 3 days, the eviction proceedings began. Clapp said she was still in the hospital when the notice was delivered to her home.

Wanted to See Bill

A former bookkeeper, Clapp said she intended to pay the utility bill only after seeing an itemized accounting of the gas and electricity charges.

"If (Bender) would have presented me with a monthly bill, there would have been no problem," said Clapp, denying that payment was withheld.

Liddle, however, said the eviction proceedings began after Clapp refused to pay her utility bill for the third time in recent years.

"At some point, my client has to draw the line and say he's not going to take care of it," he said. "The woman has not been cooperative."

Clapp's granddaughter, Lynne Charlton, said the family approached Bender in June to make arrangements to pay the balance of the rent, but the landlord would not tell her how much money was owed.

"They'll do anything in their power to get her out," she said. "It's a rotten thing to do to her. I think they're just taking advantage of it."

Liddle said that the family's offer was made a month after the eviction proceedings began. Moreover, he said, the family made no mention of making sanitation or plumbing repairs to Clapp's mobile home that had been requested by the park's management.

Since the early 1970s, various physical infirmities have confined Clapp to a wheelchair. Clapp's left leg is weak and shorter than her right one and she suffers from a bad back. A slight speech impediment, which sometimes makes it difficult for her to complete sentences, can give people the mistaken impression she has had a stroke.

Her home is furnished with only the bare essentials: a bed, a table, a television and a portable toilet. The bathroom is unable to accommodate her wheelchair. She has lived alone since her husband died shortly after they moved there in 1970.

Relying on Meals on Wheels, an aid program that brings hot meals to shut-ins, and an occasional grocery delivery from Cushman, Clapp said she enjoys living alone in her mobile home. In the past 5 years, the only time she remembers going out was her June trip to the hospital.

Liddle asserted that allowing Clapp to live in the mobile home with little supervision or care posed a greater hardship than the eviction. For instance, he said, in the past Clapp has been injured and her condition was not been discovered until days later.

"This woman can fall down and nobody will know for a week," he said. "In alleviating my client's problem, there's some hope that the family will step in to help her out."

Clapp's daughter and three grandchildren live in the San Francisco Bay area and a son lives in Boston. Charlton said her grandmother has rebuffed efforts to move her closer to the rest of the family.

"She is a very, very independent woman," she said. "I don't think she wants to feel like a burden to the family.

"I asked her back in June if she wanted to move up here, and she said that she didn't want to. She grew up in L.A. She's just comfortable with it."

It remains unclear what will happen to Clapp. Charlton said the family had expected her to win the case and did not know if Clapp would consider moving.

Liddle suggested that if Clapp is unable to adequately care for herself, and no family members live close by, she would be better off in a nursing home.

"Baloney!" Clapp retorted early Monday before the ruling was issued.

Nursing homes, Clapp said, are places where seniors are sent to waste away.

"My mother was in a rest home for years," she said. "She was just as miserable as I would be. . . . I don't want to go."

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