KILLINGWORTH – Residents of several mobile home communities spoke at a gathering in Beechwood Mobile Home Park on Saturday about the ways in which price increases and poor maintenance have affected their ability to survive.
Saturday’s meeting, which attracted state lawmakers as well as Senator Richard Blumenthal, was held in response to expected increases in rents in Beachwood, a 55-plus community of about 300 homes. The community was acquired in 2019 by Sun Communities, a multi-state company that operates mobile home parks and marinas.
Residents said they have experienced a rent increase this year of 4.6 percent, to $481 a month, compared to previous rent increases of about 2 percent annually. They also described problems with sewage systems and the need for retaining walls in many properties. Park resident Jackie Vessey told CT Examiner that they switched from four maintenance people to just one.
Pete, a meeting attendee whose parents live in the park, said his parents’ sewage system has been running regularly for years. He said he had been trying to help them for the past eight months.
“Sometimes they go 36 hours without a toilet,” he said. “It’s a big problem.”
Pete said he reached out to the office and threatened to call a lawyer, at which point they began pumping litter on a regular basis. He said the office told him they wouldn’t replace his parents’ sewage system until they had enough sewage systems to replace.
Two other community members said they needed the retaining walls, but the Sun Communities refused to install them.
A resident named Kim said her neighbor removed bushes along the side of her house, leaving her a cliff at the end of her property. She said she has asked Sun several times to address the issue.
“They said I could build a spare wall,” she said, “they are not responsible.” “But when I surf the Internet, she says that when we rent the land, they are responsible for providing a safe place for the house we own.”
Ralph, another resident, who said he’s been living in the community for two years, also needs a backup wall on his property.
“It really is a safety hazard because when I go to cut the grass, if I lose my balance, I will fall. Alive. And at the age of seventy-seven, I don’t want to think about what will happen,” he said.
He said that after complaining several times to Sun, the company sent someone to look at the property. He said that instead of putting up a wall, the person pushed the pegs into the ground, saying he would “keep them for a while.”
Ralph said paying to put up a spare wall himself wasn’t an option for him.
“I can’t afford the retaining wall. I am 77 years old and already have two jobs.
Blumenthal said residents’ complaints reflected what senators across the country were hearing about big companies buying up mobile home parks and raising prices. He said US senators were “just starting to mobilize” on the issue, which not many were aware of.
Blumenthal said that if Sun Communities were raising rental rates beyond the cost of providing services, it could be price gouging, because people in the community weren’t able to pick up and move elsewhere.
“Sun should really be held accountable,” Blumenthal said. “They need to provide an explanation. You deserve some answers.”
Beechwood was not the only community represented at the Saturday meeting. Two residents of River’s Edge Mobile Community in Beacon Falls also attended the meeting. One resident, who asked not to be named, said they paid $565 a month, which is an increase of $125 over three years. She said she also pays $80 a month to go to the laundromat and do laundry, since there is no on-site laundromat.
In June, Beacon Falls residents 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 rising inflation.
“We are aware that some of you receive stable income from the government and that government checks have not kept pace with costs historically, which is unfortunate,” the letter read.
One resident who has lived in the park for 44 years said he “managed” the rent increase, even though “my fridge isn’t as full as it used to be.”
He added, “I’d like to have a part-time job, but with my heart condition I can’t.”
Residents also described electrical, health and other problems that they said had not been fixed.
In an email comment to CT Examiner, O’Brien said: “The rent increase as of July 1 was in line with last year’s interest rate index inflationary increase. Demand at River’s Edge MHC remains high with occupancy at 100% and there are no homes for sale. We We strive to offer clean, safe, and affordable rentals. We’ve made improvements to River’s Edge since our ownership and resolved maintenance items in a timely manner.”
Pamela Brown, director of investigations for the State Department’s Department of Consumer Protection, told residents that they can complain to the department about any maintenance problems in the park, and send photos, videos or documents. She said the park owners are expected to fix the problem within a “reasonable” time. The department can also send inspectors to review complaints. If the complaint turns out to be valid, the inspectors will write a report and send it to the department’s legal department.
The day before Saturday’s meeting, Vece, president of the Social Club and one of the meeting’s organizers, received a letter from Brandon George, vice president of the division at Sun Communities, which oversees 45 communities including Beechwood Communities. George said he wanted to find time to meet with community members and listen to their concerns.
“I understand that there are some concerns from homeowners in the community and I would like to better understand these issues,” George wrote in an email to Vece.
On Tuesday, Vece received an email from Beechwood’s community manager, Dawn Albrecht, about scheduling a meeting between George and the handful of community members who make up the park’s “Communications Committee.” While some members nearly met George on Wednesday, Vece declined to participate.
“I don’t think talking to them will happen [the residents] Vece said. I might talk to you at some point [George]But it will be on my own terms.”
After the meeting, Vece received an email from a member in attendance that George plans 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 in the community club and pool.
She told panelist CT Examiner that she felt the tone of the meeting was positive.
“I am open minded and just felt like he was coming from a good place,” she said of George.
George and other Sun Communities executives did not respond to requests for comment.
This story has been updated to include a comment by Richard O’Brien, CEO of Athena Rental Estate