By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — Residents from River’s Edge Mobile Home Park say the community’s new out-of-state owners are making living there unaffordable for the residents — many of whom are elderly and on fixed incomes.
The residents want the town to create a Fair Rent Commission after Athena Real Estate of Orlando, Fla. raised monthly rent by $50 this year, after increases of $30 and $45 in the previous two years.
Mobile home resident Colleen Dana — and roughly a little more than two dozen residents — presented the Board of Selectmen with a petition with over 50 names asking selectmen to create a Fair Rent Commission.
“Most larger towns have to implement one if you have over 25,000 residents in your town,” Dana said. “Obviously, we don’t (have that many residents, but we are petitioning for that so that we (as renters) have a place to go to make complaint when we have these large and really unjust rent increases.”
Athena Real Estate, which describes itself on its website as a “mid-size real estate operating company active in purchasing properties,” bought the roughly 55-unit River’s Edge Mobile Home Park three years ago from the community’s current manager Mark Kudasik.
Since the sale, rent has gone up by $30 the first year, then $45 and now $50 in July. Another mobile home park directly next door pays about $130 less per month, Dana said.
Dana said since the increases have occurred, there haven’t been any improvements made while there are ongoing issues in the community which include water pressure and septic issues.
The price increases are greatly affecting many residents who are on fixed incomes, Dana said.
“I personally am now on disability. A lot of these people are on disability or retired. I bought my home because I knew that I was going to have to go on disability and I wanted to able to afford where I lived and with the lot rent and a small mortgage, I could do that but the way we’re moving forward lately, we’re going to be up above anybody’s affordability very soon,” Dana said. “That is why we’re here.”
Athena Real Estate CEO Richard O’Brien said the rent increases are justified.
“Our rental increase effective July 1 was in line with the inflationary consumer price index increase for the last year. Demand at River’s Edge remains high as occupancy is at 100% and there are no homes for sale,” O’Brien said.
“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.”
Mobile home resident Michael McDonald said he would like to talk with the new owners. “We never met them,” McDonald said. “They just sent a letter.”
Kudasik, the former owner and property manager, declined to comment.
First Selectman Gerard Smith said he would put the issue on the agenda for next month’s meeting and send it off to the town attorney to see how town officials can start commissions.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and a group of 16 other senators and members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter Aug. 4 to the Federal Housing Finance Agency to call for more protection for tenants in mobile home communities.
The letter stated many of the investment firms that bought up these communities financed the purchase through Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. and Federal National Mortgage Association — enterprises sponsored by the federal government.
Dave Delohery, president of the Connecticut Manufactured Homeowners’ Alliance and a resident of the Cedar Springs mobile home community in Southington, said a new state statue was passed in June mandating cities over 25,000 residents need to create a fair rent commission by July of next year.
“I think the thing to focus on is that in most other towns right now is the problem that the rents are going up and it’s impacting the ability of people on fixed incomes to survive,” Delohery said. “If these people are forced out of their homes, you as a town are going to be forced to face the prospect of where do they live.”
Kathy Johnson, former first selectman of Oxford, said her son suffers from a brain injury and lives in the park, where she and her husband own a trailer. “I have been an activist protecting my brain-injured son and I’m also a caregiver and retired from Yale University School of Medicine,” Johnson said.
Residents explained to the board that tenants received a letter from the mobile home community stating: “We do realize that some of you are on a fixed income from the government and the government checks have historically not kept up with housing costs which is unfortunate.”
Dana said at lest 70% of the tenants are on Social Security.
“Some of them are looking to move,” she said. “One neighbor who lived here for over 40 years said he might have to move in with his daughter. It’s urgent is what it is.”
Tenants would like to see improvements made including paving the roads, installing lighting in the back and fixing septic issues.
The mobile home park directly next to them pays less and has washing machines while River’s edge tenants aren’t allowed, Dana said.
“We’re faced with this trend of out-of-state companies buying up mobile homes. We’re doing what we can to stop it. Doing what we can to put the brakes on it,” Delohery said. “We’re trying to get residents to organize to petition for town officials to create a fair rent commission.”
Smith said town officials will do everything they can but they will need time.
“I understand it’s a sensitive issue that needs to be done right away,” Smith said at the meeting.
“We’re fearful of just how high they’re going to go,” Dana said subsequently. “At least with a commission we have a chance to fight and stop it from going higher.