02/19/11 2:16pm
02/19/2011 2:16 PM
Fred Theile, mobile homeowners

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Assemblyman Fred Theile addresses mobile home owners in a packed Riverhead Town Hall Saturday.

At least 150 people, most of them mobile home owners, packed Riverhead Town Hall Saturday morning for a meeting to discuss a bill in the state Legislature that would limit “unjustifiable” rent increases in mobile home parks.

The bill, sponsored by assemblymen Fred Thiele (R-Sag Harbor) and Dan LoSquadro (R-Shoreham) and state Senator Ken Lavalle (R-Port Jefferson), comes at a time when residents of MacLeod’s, River Haven and Lakewood mobile home parks, in January received noticed that their monthly rents would increase by $49.75 on May 1, while residents of what used to be known as Thurm’s Estates, a mobile home park in Calverton, were notified Jan. 1 that their rent would increase by $50 per month, according to Joe Kummer, the president of the Mobile/Manufactured Home Owners Association of Suffolk.

Thurm’s Estates was sold by its prior owner, listed as MHC THurms, LLC, to a Chicago-based company using the name Hometown Thurms Estates on Dec. 28 for $10.8 million. The park will now be called Hometown America.

The prior owner, who had it for three years, “kept raising the rent and putting no money back into the park,” said Mr. Kummer, who lives there. “In the three years that they had it, my rent went up $218 [per month]. The first year that they bought the property, they raised the rent twice in one year.”

Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle attended that group’s meeting Saturday to discuss the proposed law and to get feedback from mobile home owners.

The proposed bill dealing with unjustified rent increases passed in the state Assembly two years ago but didn’t pass in the state Senate, Mr. Thiele said after the meeting.

Mobile home owners own their homes, but they rent the land on which it sits, which makes them vulnerable to rent hikes, Mr. Thiele explained. “Right now, if they increase your rent by 100 percent, you have no remedy but to pick up and leave,” he said, adding that since the number of mobile home parks is limited and most towns aren’t permitting new parks, moving the home often isn’t feasible.

“All the power is with the park owner,” he said.

The proposed law would give mobile home owners the right to challenge a rent increase in court if that increase is greater than the Consumer Price Index in New York State and if the mobile home is the person’s primary residence. The challenge must be taken within 90 days of the notice of increase and park owners have the right to make increases that reflect operating costs, taxes and debt service on capital improvements, Mr. Thiele said.

If one person in a park successfully challenges an increase, all the residence of that park benefit, according to the proposal.

Mr. Kummer suggested the increase be limited to three percent.

Pauline Sandmann, a resident of MacLeod’s and the president of that park’s civic group, read a letter from park owner Myron MacLeod regarding the increases at the three parks he owns.

“I am aware of the strong reaction to our January rent announcement,” Mr. MacLeod wrote. “That goes into effect this May 1 . It’s clear I underestimated the negative impact this would have on residents. We have been making extensive capital improvements in the communities over the last three years and I made the assumption that residents would understand the higher increase after such costs.”

Mr. MacLeod went on to write that his company invested about $1.7 million in the parks since 2006. He said the company considered giving residents a one-time bill to cover that work, instead of building the cost into the rent, but that would have cost each resident about $3,000.

“We thought it would be far less burdensome and easier to bear if the cost was spread over time,” the letter read.

In response, residents at Saturday’s meeting insisted that once the capital improvements are paid off, their rents should go back down again.

“Will he stop this $50 after the repairs are done or will we pay $50 for the rest of our life?” one man asked.

A woman who lived in a park in Bohemia told Mr. Thiele Saturday that thanks to recent increases, her mobile home park rent is now $771 per month while her state pension is only $700 per month. “Where do I go from here?” she asked.

Another woman who said she lived in MacLeod’s said “the next thing is I’m going to be living in my car.”

Senator Lavalle said the mobile home legislation takes on greater importance because of the difficult economic times.

“In times of economic stress, you don’t walk on people’s backs when they are down,” Mr. LaValle said.

He said the Legislature will be working to pass a budget by April 1, but promised mobile home owners he would “push as hard as I can to get this bill through the Senate.”

tgannon@timesreview.com