KILLINGWORTH — Residents of multiple mobile home communities spoke at a gathering at the Beechwood Mobile Home Park on Saturday about the ways that price increases and poor maintenance have affected their ability to get by.
The Saturday meeting, which drew state lawmakers as well as Sen. Richard Blumenthal, was held in response to anticipated rent increases at Beechwood, a 55-plus community that includes about 300 homes. The community was purchased in 2019 by Sun Communities, a multi-state corporation that manages mobile home parks and marinas.
Residents said that they faced a rent increase this year of 4.6 percent, to $481 per month, compared to earlier rental increases of around two percent per year. They also described problems with septic systems and a need for retaining walls on several properties. Jackie Vece, a resident of the park, told CT Examiner that they went from having four maintenance people to having just one.
Pete, an attendee at the meeting whose parents live in the park, said that his parents’ septic system has been backing up regularly for years. He said that he’d been trying to help them for the last eight months.
“Sometimes they go 36 hours without a toilet,” he said. “It’s a big problem.”
Pete said that he had reached out to the office and threatened to contact a lawyer, at which point they began to pump the septic more regularly. He said that the office told him they wouldn’t replace the septic system for his parents until they had enough septic systems that needed to be replaced.
Two other community members said they were in need of retaining walls, but that Sun Communities had refused to put them up.
A resident named Kim said that her neighbor removed the bushes along the side of her house, leaving her with a cliff at the end of her property. She said she’s asked Sun multiple times to address the issue.
“They said that I could build a retaining wall, they’re not responsible,” she said. “But when I look online, it says that when we rent the land, they’re responsible to give us a safe place for the home that we own.”
Another resident, Ralph, who said he had been living in the community for two years, said that he also needed a retaining wall on his property.
“It’s really a safety hazard because when I go to cut the grass, if I lose my balance, I’m gonna fall over. Bang. And at 77, I don’t want to think what’s gonna happen,” he said.
After complaining multiple times to Sun, he said, the company sent someone to look at the property. He said that rather than putting in a wall, the person drove stakes into the ground, saying they would “hold it for a while.”
Ralph said that paying to put in a retaining wall himself wasn’t an option for him.
“ I can’t afford a retaining wall. I’m 77 and working two jobs already,” he said.
Blumenthal said that the complaints of the residents mirrored what senators across the country had been hearing about large corporations purchasing mobile home parks and raising prices. He said U.S. senators were “just beginning to mobilize” on the issue, which many were unaware of.
Blumenthal said that if it was the case that Sun Communities was raising the rent prices far beyond the cost of providing services, it might constitute price gouging, since the people in the community were not able to pick up and move anywhere else.
“Sun Corporation really ought to be held accountable,” said Blumenthal. “They need to provide an explanation. You deserve some answers.”
Beechwood wasn’t the only community represented at the Saturday meeting. Two residents from the River’s Edge Mobile Community in Beacon Falls were also in attendance. One of the residents, who asked not to be named, said that they paid $565 per month, which represented an increase of $125 over three years. She said she also pays $80 per month to go to the laundromat and wash clothes, since they do not have on-site laundry.
In June, residents of Beacon Falls received a letter from Richard O’Brien, CEO of Athena Rental Estate, of which Applebrook Homes is a subsidiary, who attributed the rent increases to the high rate of inflation.
“We do realize that some of you are on a fixed income from the government and that government checks have historically not kept up with costs, which is unfortunate,” the letter read.
A resident who has lived in the park for 44 years said that he’s “managing” the rent increases, although “my refrigerator isn’t as full as it used to be.”
“I would love to get a part-time job,” he added, “But with my heart condition I can’t.”
The residents also described electrical, septic and other issues, which they said were not being fixed.
In an emailed comment to CT Examiner, O’Brien said, “Our rental increase effective July 1 was in line with the inflationary cpi increase for the last year. Demand at River’s Edge MHC remains high as occupancy is at 100% and there are no homes for sale. We strive to offer clean, safe and reasonably priced lot rents. We have made improvements to River’s Edge since our ownership and resolved maintenance items timely.”
Pamela Brown, director of investigations at the State Department of Consumer Protection, told residents that they could file a complaint with the department about any maintenance problems at the park, and send photos, videos or documents. She said the park owners would be expected to fix the issue within a “reasonable” amount of time. The department can also send inspectors out to review complaints. If the complaint is found to be valid, the inspectors will write up a report and send it to the department’s legal division.
The day before the Saturday meeting, Vece, president of the social club and one of the meeting’s organizers, received a message from Brandon George, division vice president at Sun Communities, who oversees 45 communities including the Beechwood Communities. George said he wanted to find a time to meet with members of the community and hear their concerns.
“I understand there have been some concerns from the homeowners of the community and I would like to better understand the issues,” George wrote in an email to Vece.
On Tuesday, Vece received an email from the community manager of Beechwood, Dawn Albrecht, about scheduling a meeting between George and a handful of community members that make up the “communications committee” at the park. While some members met virtually with George on Wednesday, Vece refused to participate.
“I don’t think talking to them is going to get [the residents] any of the results that they need,” said Vece. “I may at some point talk to [George], but it’s going to be on my own terms,” she said.
After the meeting, Vece received an email from one of the members in attendance saying that George planned to come to the community in September to discuss residents’ concerns. The member also said that George had asked residents to make a “wish list” of things they would like for the community’s clubhouse and pool.
The committee member told CT Examiner that she felt the tone of the meeting was positive.
“I’m open minded and I just felt he was coming from a good place. He sounded very sincere,” she said of George.
George and other executives of Sun Communities did not return requests for comment.
This story has been updated to include comment by Richard O’Brien, CEO of Athena Rental Estate