Residents of many metro area mobile home communities say they feel under attack because of park management’s increasingly strict enforcement of rules and orders to make costly home repairs. Others say they are forced to pay for services they didn’t ask for.
The actions come as more mobile home parks in Minnesota and nationally are snapped up by large corporations who see them as lucrative investments. Out of 45,000 home sites across 900 mobile parks in Minnesota, nearly one-third have changed hands since 2015. Out-of-state companies bought over half of them.
Ultimately, residents fear eviction if they don’t cooperate with management’s requests.
“The newest thing is sort of a wave of rule enforcement, trying to tell tenants to follow rules that often don’t apply to them,” said Samuel Spaid, an attorney with Home Line, which offers free legal help to tenants. “Most of the rule changes and this type of enforcement is coming from companies that bought mobile home parks in the recent past.”
Tammy Van Horn, a resident of Baldwin Lake Estates in Lino Lakes for 14 years, has received four letters this year from Summit Management, each with new items to fix. Three mentioned eviction.
“It’s just a constant thing, over and over and over. I’m tired of it hanging over my head that you can evict me at any time for little, piddly stuff,” she said, adding that some items aren’t mentioned in her lease or rule book and others have been acceptable for years.
The repairs, which must be done in 30 days, include bringing her rear stairs up to code and “adjusting” her front deck, though a property manager has since said the stairs are fine and the deck passed city inspection. She was asked to remove a tree in her neighbor’s yard.
Dave Anderson, executive director of All Parks Alliance for Change, a statewide organization for mobile home park residents, said some repairs, like installing new windows or siding, are costly.
“Residents have commented on never experiencing something like this before,” Anderson said of callers from five Summit communities who received letters. “It’s instilled a certain amount of panic.”
Park owners are “taking advantage of a huge imbalance of power,” he said.
Mark Lambert, chief manager of Stillwater-based Summit Management and owner of at least one of Summit’s nine Minnesota parks, said the company regularly completes spring inspections and sends out noncompliance letters.
This year’s letters may include more repairs than in previous years because inspections weren’t performed for two years during the pandemic, he said.
“Some people take miraculous care of their home without being told, and some people need to be reminded and pushed and sometimes cajoled,” Lambert said. “We just want the homes brought up to community standards.”
Lambert said he will work with residents who are trying to make repairs. Summit sent an apology email Friday to residents saying they would “suspend and rescind” all spring inspection notices and not pursue evictions.
Attorney general steps in
Across the metro, residents say other park owners are trying to make changes that aren’t fair or realistic.
The disputes came to a head this summer in Northfield when the state Attorney General’s Office said many rules were unreasonable changes that infringed on residents’ rights.
Residents of Viking Terrace formed an association to fight back after the park’s new owner, Lakeshore Management, created new rules and sent out letters detailing many violations this summer. Some breeds of dogs were forbidden, and certain furniture and toys weren’t allowed in yards.
In late July, Illinois-based Lakeshore reverted to the park’s previous rules and existing lease agreements. Lakeshore did not comment.
Residents “struggled so much … that it’s like, now we can take a breath,” said Mar Valdecantos, a Northfield housing advocate.
Rent has already gone up once, and residents fear it will rise again. Raising rent “is the goal of the company and what we’ve seen in other communities all over the state,” Valdecantos said.
Jilene Christensen has lived at North Creek in Lakeville for 25 years. Since new owner Havenpark Communities took over last October, she’s noticed several changes, including much higher sewer and water bills.
The Utah-based company requires new residents to enroll in a lawn care service “to help the community look its best,” a Havenpark letter said. Current residents don’t have to enroll.
Management also says residents can no longer park on the street, though Christensen said her lease and rules don’t mention this. Several residents said the property manager told them items such as kiddie pools and fire pits are now forbidden.
Rent increased last December by $40 and will go up this December by $55, she said.
Residents “are completely frustrated; they’re completely fed up,” Christensen said.
Josh Weiss, spokesman for Havenpark, said on-street parking is not allowed in current leases because it is a hazard for firemen and first responders. The property manager was likely discussing some possible “future rules” with residents, he said. Kiddie pools will continue to be allowed if dumped out nightly, but fire pits may not be used because of insurance stipulations.
Weiss said the lawn service is included in new residents’ lot rent. He added that water and sewer are billed using standard practice.
Havenpark has spent more than $250,000 improving North Creek since buying it, Weiss said.
Rule changes must be ‘reasonable’
Minnesota law includes many statutes related to mobile homes, including several intended to protect tenants.
Margaret Kaplan, president of the Housing Justice Center, said that some of the rules mentioned — such as not being allowed to keep hoses or grills in the yard — sound unreasonable.
“A lot of this sounds questionable at best,” she said.
If management hasn’t enforced a rule for many years, a resident could argue that the company has waived the right to enforce it, she said.
As more large corporations buy mobile home parks, they often try to enforce the same rules across many communities, Spaid said.
Because Minnesota law says that the initial lease a park resident signs is effectively valid indefinitely, over time residents will likely have different leases, sometimes with very different rules, Spaid said.
Some residents end up with more lenient leases, and newer landlords sometimes don’t like that, he said, so they may try to enforce newer rules even though a previous set applies to a resident.
“Often because these tenants have good deals, they’re trying to force [them] out,” he said.
A landlord can update a park’s rules, but changes must be “reasonable,” Minnesota law says. Rules can’t take away a right or privilege residents were given previously or create a significant new expense.
It’s not uncommon for park owners to try to add new fees or require residents to enroll in new services, Spaid said.
He said mobile home residents have “a lot more at stake” when a company threatens eviction compared to apartment dwellers. Because mobile homes are expensive and hard to move, residents often sell or just leave their home behind if they’re facing eviction.
Anderson, of All Parks Alliance for Change, said one solution is for residents to collectively own the parks. His nonprofit advocates for legislation that would ensure residents get a chance to purchase the park if it’s being sold. Last session, such a bill was introduced but never made it out of committee.