BY ANDREAS YILMA
BEACON FALLS — A fair rent commission will be formed after months of outcry from River’s Edge Mobile Home Park residents after a sharp rent increase imposed by a new out-of-state owner.
The Board of Selectmen agreed Nov. 14 meeting to send the proposed ordinance to a town meeting Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Beacon House Company No. 1 firehouse, 35 North Main St.
About 20 residents, mainly mobile home residents, packed the Assembly Room at Town Hall for the third consecutive Board of Selectmen meeting to show their support for a fair rent commission after their new landlord, Athena Real Estate of Orlando, Fla., raised monthly rent by $50 this year, following increases of $30 and $45 in the previous two years when it acquired the 55-unit mobile home park in 2019 from the community’s current manager, Mark Kudasik.
Many of the residents are elderly or on fixed incomes.
Athena CEO Richard O’Brien previously said the rental increases are in line with the inflationary consumer price index increase for the last year and demand at the community is high with occupancy at 100%.
The proposed ordinance sates the creation of fair rent commission is for the purpose of controlling and eliminating excessive rental charges for housing accommodations within the town.
The proposed fair rent commission shall consist of seven members and three alternates whom shall be town residents. Out of the seven regular members, at least two shall be residential landlords and two shall be residential tenants. Out of the alternate members, at least one member shall be a residential landlord and shall be a residential tenant, according to the document.
“Commission’s powers shall include the authority to receive complaints, inquiries, and other communications concerning alleged excessive rental charges,” the ordinance states.
The proposed ordinance lays out all of what’s involved with a fair rent commission and a lot of repercussions. The new proposed regulation wouldn’t be just for the mobile home but for all rentals in town, First Selectman Gerard Smith said.
Former first selectman of Oxford, Kathy Johnson, who owns a trailer with her husband for their brain-injured son that lives in the park, asked Smith how he thought the town meeting would go.
Smith responded that it is an expensive commission to put together.
“I think it’s going to be a mixed bag of what you’re going to get,” Smith said. “We have trouble getting commissioners to be on all the boards that we have that have been established for time immemorial, now we have another board that’s going to have seven members on it.”
Smith said it will be interesting when the proposed ordinance goes to the public.
“Not only is it labor intensive, it’s going to be a financial burden on the town also,” Smith said. “That’s why it was mandated for towns that are 25,000 (population) and over because they’ve got the personnel with all the money to do it. Small towns like Beacon Falls, that’s a pretty big ask.”
Smith said the town doesn’t have senior housing after mobile home resident Debby Bostrom asked if the town has a senior citizen housing complex in case the proposed ordinance doesn’t go through.
“When you’re dealing with small towns, small towns are very limited with the resources that we have,” Smith said. “We’re looking into that but then even that takes money.”
Smith said if the ordinance is approved, the residents can come to the newly formed fair rent commission; however, if it’s not approved, then the best course would be to go back to newly re-elected state Sen. Jorge Cabrera of the 17th District, which includes Beacon Falls.
Cabrera previously said he would advocate for the residents. Once the election was over, he said he wants to look at introducing legislation to help those in situations similar to the residents of River’s Edge..
“It’s kind of tough when you know it’s not the Board of Selectmen’s or the town’s place to tell private citizens what they can charge for rent,” Smith said.