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Housing Authority changes attorneys

"More than a month after four disgruntled Orchard Bluff residents sued the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority (KCCHA), the quasi-governmental agency abruptly dropped changed attorneys.Orchard Bluff, a mobile home park located in Port Orchard, is owned and operated by KCCH on behalf of low-income citizens over the age of 55.The plaintiffs, represented by Silverdale attorney Dale Magneson, contend the Housing Authority arbitrarily changed the terms of a tenancy lease they signed two years ago, which, according to state law, they say wasn't a completely valid agreement.Citing a conflict of interest, Housing Authority officials decided to replace Darrel Uptegraft of Ryan, Sells, Uptegraft, Inc., P.S. in Silverdale, - normally kept on retainer by the agency - with an independent Seattle attorney.Roger Mellem, of Foster, Pepper and Shefelman in Seattle is expected to represent the Housing Authority in the case. Mellem, who couldn't be reached for comment Monday, is also held on retainer.Ryan Sells Uptegraft, as a law firm, wrote the original lease agreement between the Housing Authority and the Orchard Bluff tenants, said Sarah Lee, a spokeswoman for the Housing Authority. Because of that, it's possible an attorney in the Uptegraft firm would have to testify, and that consitutes a conflict of interest.Magneson, the plaintiffs attorney, who was informed of the switch a week ago wondered why the Housing Authority didn't realize immediately there could be a conflict. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs continue to claim the Housing Authority directed several Orchard Bluff tenants to pay for water and utility bills under duress without a proper, written agreement and contrary to the original lease agreement.The plaintiffs have asked to be reimbursed for these bills, and that a permanent injunction be placed against the Housing Authority to prevent it from enforcing the terms of a lease to which the plaintiffs didn't agree.The plaintiffs say they're upset that the Housing Authority, through these recent lease negotiations, created two classes of residents at Orchard Bluff - the former Norseland residents and the newcomers.More than half of the residents at Orchard Bluff were relocated to the mobile home park several years ago as part of a legal settlement over contamination at Norseland Mobile Home Estates. But it's the newcomers, the plaintiffs, say, who are seeing the most dramatic increases in rent and additional fees.According to the updated leases, newcomers could see a 6.5 percent rent increase, would pay for utilities and pay a flat, $50 fee for overdue rent payments.Ex-Norselanders, on the other hand, are looking at a 3 pecent rent increase, but they won't pay for water, and the late fee will remain at 5 percent. "

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