When Lee Hawkins arrived home in early July, he found a new lease taped to the door of his mobile home in Hastings’ Three Rivers community.
Out of all the new rules and fees outlined in the document by the property’s new ownership, one stood out to him the most: his 10-year-old dog, Spirit, would have to go.
“I was ready to sell,” the 18-year resident said he was thinking as he waited over two weeks for clarification from the Utah-based Havenpark Capital Partners.
Like other residents, he made arrangements with his employer to attend a meeting last week with representatives from Havenpark. In the neighborhood storm shelter with around 150 residents from the 220-unit mobile home park, managers said they planned to amend the leases and certain rule agreements, claiming they were left in there by mistake, such as the dog ban. Meanwhile, residents say they are left uncertain about their future, with concerns over Havenpark’s reputation of raising the rent, in some cases by over 20%, in other states.
“I think this community is scared that they’re going to come in and raise the rents to make it unaffordable,” said Trista Schmidt, one of the residents at the park who jumpstarted the organizing efforts and helped organize the meeting.
In response, residents are forming a mobile homeowners’ association and seeking legal advice, they said.
Under Minnesota law, tenants who rent a lot but own their mobile home cannot be forced to sign a new lease, said Sam Searles, a lawyer with Minnesota Homeline.
“Mobile home parks have endless leases, they can only be asked to leave if they violate their lease or don’t pay rent,” he said. “Tenants don’t have to sign new leases, and it’s almost ever in their best interest to do so.”
At the meeting, Havenpark regional manager David Piziazi acknowledged that the company’s lease had some inaccuracies, such as omitted key words, and said he would provide a revised version. He also told residents that the company would keep annual rent increases at 3% to 5% annually, after an initial hike. Schmidt said that her rent increased to $579 — due to higher lot rent, water billing changes and living on a “premium” lot — up from $475 under previous ownership.
Havenpark’s hike comes on top of another recent hike from previous management, residents said. While some residents said that the hike, while steep, would be manageable, they said they worried for neighbors on fixed incomes.
Resident Mike Kienberger said he and his wife recently sold their house and moved to Three Rivers because his wife has a disability which necessitates a single-level home.
He said he works part time and the two receive Social Security benefits.
“The rent hike is what is concerning,” he said.
In addition, he said, he was concerned with Piziazi’s explanation at the meeting that he intends to increase the rent for certain lots he deemed to be “premium,” such as corner lots.
Another resident, Angela Rowan, moved from an apartment to the park with her family in an effort to own property. The proposed hikes are difficult for the family, even though she and her husband work full time, she said.
Based on the lease Havenpark originally sent out, their rent would go up $80, she said.
“We live in a trailer park because we don’t have a ton of money,” Rowan said.
The company acquired several properties in Iowa this year. Havenpark raised rents over 50% for one mobile home community, and raised it by 69% at another, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported.
The aggressive tactics have drawn criticism from high-profile politicians such as presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. In May, Warren wrote a public, online letter to the company’s managing partners, asking them to explain their business practices.
The partners responded in a two-page letter, where they said “their mission is to secure and preserve affordable housing across the country.”
Havenpark also suggested in the letter that if the company had not bought out the property, it “almost assuredly would have been sold to a developer that would have closed those communities.”
Piziazi made similar claims on Wednesday night, saying that the company’s plan is to invest in the park and maintain it as a housing property. He said Havenpark plans to spend roughly $800,000 for road and driveway upkeep and landscaping needs. He also said he’d like to add amenities such as a clubhouse and a playground.
“This money doesn’t just grow on trees, we’ve got to get it back somehow,” he said. “The big story for reporters is how it’s affecting individuals at the poverty line. … I don’t have an answer, other than that I know there’s a lot of charitable organizations that will help these people. … I don’t know what to do to help people if they haven’t done the right steps in their early lives to save and invest.”
Schmidt said she found Piziazi’s explanations at the meeting difficult to parse.
“He talked around me on almost everything,” she said. “I don’t have a good positive feeling or a negative feeling.”
By the end of the night, the residents had acquired enough signatures to start the legal process of forming the mobile home owner association, Schmidt said last week. They plan on putting out a newsletter and finding a time to meet as a group to further discuss concerns and next steps.
“We have to find a way to compromise with them,” she said. “Unless I’m going to pick up my house and move, we have to find a way to make this company compliant with Minnesota law … and find a way to keep people in their homes.”