SOUTHINGTON — On Saturday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal vowed to push for legislation in Congress that would strengthen protections for tenants of mobile home parks.
Blumenthal told a gathering of residents from three different trailer parks — Cedar Springs in Southington, River’s Edge in Beacon Falls and Evergreen Springs in Clinton — that tenants deserved a “bill of rights” that would include protections from unfair rent increases, the failure to maintain the property, and a “right of first refusal” that would allow residents to purchase a mobile home park themselves before it is sold to a new owner.
Blumenthal was joined at the event by Rep. John Larson, and Rebecca Martinez, who is running for state representative in the 22nd district, which includes Southington, is the chair of Plainville’s Democratic Town Committee.
Blumenthal said that large corporations shouldn’t be able to buy up mobile home parks, cut costs and raise rents, and then turn to the government for low-interest loans from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to pay for it.
“All I’m saying is, as a condition of that support, [the federal government] ought to require basic standards of decency, fair play, fair treatment,” said Blumenthal.
In early August, Blumenthal and 16 other federal legislators asked the Federal Housing and Finance Agency for these and other policy changes, include requiring public disclosure of which companies were using public financing to purchase parks, strengthening penalties for corporations that violated tenant protections, requiring stronger eviction protections and giving tenants the right to buy their mobile home park before an outside corporation.
The response from the agency, Blumenthal said, was “extremely disappointing.”
“I tend to be a fighter, and we’re not going to take no for an answer from this federal agency,” Blumenthal said at the Saturday press conference in Southington.
Larson also spoke in favor of doing “whatever it takes” to address the problem of “unseemly corporations coming in and gobbling up what were mom and pop operations.”
Residents of the three parks – all now owned by large corporations – shared complaints about rising rents and unresolved maintenance issues.
Colleen Dana, who has lived at River’s Edge Mobile Home Community in Beacon Falls since 1997, said the monthly rent has increased $125 since Athena Real Estate took over the park three years ago. Dana said that about three-quarters of the park residents were on Social Security.
“I know people are frightened to death because they don’t know where they are going to live. Some can go live with family, others don’t have that option,” said Dana.
Meanwhile, Dana said, maintenance at the park remained the same.
“At least if they are going to increase the price — show something for it!” she said.
Lorie Giddix, a resident at the Cedar Springs Mobile Home Community in Southington, which was bought by Sun Communities, held up a photograph of ruts in the roads at the park. She said these ruts were dangerous for residents like an elderly man she knows who walks each day as part of his physical therapy. The man, she said, uses a walker.
“When those wheels get stuck, that walker’s going to go down and that gentleman is going to go with it. I know, because that’s my cane and I’ve fallen before,” she said.
Bob Bailey, who lives at the mobile home park Evergreen Springs in Clinton, owned by Michigan-based corporation RHP, said their rent has reached $721 per month for residents and $800 per month for people moving into the park. He said the park has ignored maintenance problems. He estimated the park had about 10 houses — some boarded up, some vacant — that needed to be demolished over the last six years.
The trees, he said, were also a widespread issue.
“They keep telling us, ‘Well, you know you live in the woods,’” Bailey said. “You still have a responsibility. You have trees hanging over houses. You could be laying in bed, a tree comes down, you’re dead.“
Bailey told CT Examiner that the local managers had recently been making an effort to address some of the problems, such as the old houses and the drainage issues.
Evergreen Springs’ Management said in a statement that they were “proud to offer an affordable and high quality community at Evergreen Springs,” and that they were “committed to providing a well-maintained community for residents.”
“We are in the process of completing several capital improvement projects, including road repairs that will be completed in October, and tree trimming/removal which is currently underway and scheduled to be completed by the end of October,” the statement read. “Additionally, we have begun the process of removing any unrepairable vacant homes from the community. Any testing or remediation that was required by the town/state has been completed. We can now begin the removal of these homes which will occur in the very near future.”
Residents from the communities in Southington and Beacon Falls are asking the towns to form a Fair Rent Commission — a municipal board made up of landlords and tenants that can hear complaints and decide whether a rent increase is unreasonable.
Valerie DePaolo, a member of the Southington Town Council, told residents Saturday that the council was looking into the possibility of a fair rent commission, and how much authority such a commission could have.
“This is an extremely important issue,” said DePaolo.
Mike Kane, a local community manager for three Sun communities in Southington, said that he came to the meeting to hear residents’ concerns.
“We are trying to do as much as we can to listen to what the issues are,” he said. “And any input I can have to affect change for the benefit of the residents, I’m going to try and do that.”
Martinez said that the stories she heard from the residents hit home.
“This is a really personal issue for me, I’m a home care nurse in Southington. I have so many patients in Sun that are homebound … they cannot afford food and medication and their health care. They cannot take on this increase,” she said. “You have an advocate and an ally.”
Blumenthal told residents that he has already prepared a piece of draft legislation to introduce in the Senate, but could not commit to a firm timeline. He promised to return either at the end of this year or early next year and report on the legislation’s progress.
“I will go to every one of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle … and enlist and ask for their support,” said Blumenthal. “I sincerely think that there is an issue of really fundamental justice here, fairness and justice. And I think the more we push through legislation, or through the kind of voice and face that you’re giving to these issues, the more we’re going to be heard and get action.”