Residents at a Northfield mobile home community are crying foul and getting organized after a new management company instituted what residents say are unreasonable rules.
Lakeshore Management purchased Viking Terrace in April. Since then, they have sent letters to residents detailing many new regulations — some large-breed dogs aren’t allowed, certain furniture and toys in the yard must go and only two cars may be kept on site — despite previous management’s approval of these things. They’ve also set short timelines to comply and have threatened eviction.
The new company “has come to oppress us and to take away our rights,” said resident Nathaly Sanchez Hernandez, who fears the company might force her to get rid of her two German shepherds.
Lakeshore officials have also been taking frequent pictures of properties, intimidating residents and violating their privacy, residents said.
Most residents, who are largely low income and Latino, own their homes but pay rent to keep them at Viking Terrace.
“This is all we have,” said longtime resident Jorge Zuccolotto. “There are a lot of people suffering — they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Many residents are stuck at the park, Zuccolotto said, because not only is it expensive to transport a mobile home elsewhere, many of the homes are too old to survive a move — and it’s tough to find a place taking new residents.
But they are fighting back, Zuccolotto said. They found a lawyer to advise them, contacted the city for help and formed a homeowners’ association last week. Zuccolotto is the president.
City officials told residents — including dozens who went to a City Council meeting this week — that they are concerned about the situation and committed to safe, affordable housing for all.
“I just want you to know that people in this community really care about what’s happening,” said Mayor Rhonda Pownell.
City Administrator Ben Martig said officials are looking into what they can do, including possible policy changes and using “informal authority.” Staff members are working with several nonprofits and the state to figure out how to help.
Changes could include updates to the city’s tenant rights ordinance or mobile home ordinance, Martig said.
Lakeshore didn’t respond to phone calls requesting comment. In their letters to residents about infractions, they said they would help connect residents to resources to make repairs.
Living in ‘jail’
Mar Valdecantos, a school district translator and housing advocate with Rice County Neighbors United, said what’s happening at Viking Terrace is part of a nationwide pattern. Companies buy up parks, make aesthetic improvements and then raise rents. They displace original tenants, who sometimes leave their mobile home behind, losing everything.
Lakeshore raised rent by $65 in June and is asking for a new security deposit of $200.
Valdecantos said these companies want “a very specific look for the place” and make rules accordingly. Viking Terrace residents have received letters and photos with problems circled in marker from management, she said.
Most homes are “old places that have been fixed on the inside, not so much on the outside,” she said.
Sometimes it’s not clear what needs changing. Other times, the letters say residents must update the skirt on their home, remove a grill or throw away lumber in their yard. A second letter threatens eviction, she said.
Lakeshore also says residents must trim trees on their property despite a previous policy stating it is management’s job.
Jeff Freiermuth , a Viking Terrace resident for 23 years, said he spent his July 4th trimming a tree branch that broke because management said it was his responsibility.
“We take pride in where we live but with all this stuff, you feel like you’re in jail,” Freiermuth said.
Natividad Rosete lives in a tan trailer at Viking Terrace with her husband and daughter, who is in the U.S. Navy. The family got a letter saying they could only have two cars, not three. She’s constantly afraid they will tow her vehicle away, she said.
“I don’t feel safe here anymore,” she said.
Against the law?
Attorney Margaret Kaplan president of the Housing Justice Center, sent a letter to Lakeshore telling them many of their practices are against the law. A second letter is in the works, she said.
Kaplan’s letter informs Lakeshore that Minnesota law says mobile homeowners aren’t required to sign another lease when new management comes in, and residents have 30 days to make any changes related to rule violations, not the five to seven days some were given.
Trees, roads and infrastructure throughout the park are the responsibility of the owner, she said, not residents.
And Kaplan’s letter says new owners can change the rules, but changes must be “reasonable” and cannot require “substantial modification,” according to Minnesota law. The new rules can’t take away a right or privilege residents were given previously or create a significant new expense.
“We are committed to ensuring that the rights of homeowners are honored to the fullest extent of the law,” the letter said.
Lakeshore hasn’t responded to Kaplan’s letter.
Though residents were encouraged by the city’s response Tuesday, they are still scared and unsure of their future, Valdecantos said.
The ultimate goal, Valdecantos said, is for residents to own the park cooperatively.
Resident Glenda Orrego said for many years, mobile home residents were “living in the shadows.” Now, though, they are getting organized.