Murray mobile-home owner sues landlord over increases
In 2012, rising rents, shorter grace periods and harsher late fees combined to make life in one Murray manufactured-home park feel more hostile than havenlike.
Steve and Nancy Anderson have lived in Cottonwood Coves near State Street and 4500 South for eight years. Since June, they have been embroiled in a lawsuit against the park owner, Terry Robison.
Steve Anderson maintains that Robison unilaterally changed the terms of the contract that he and his wife signed in November 2004.
"Their attorney, at the hearing, said they were changing the rules, not the contract," Steve Anderson said. "He's basically saying that the lease agreement is not worth the paper it's written on."
For starters, sewer and water fees had been included in the monthly lot rent, but a May notice to residents announced that individual metering devices would be installed on their homes and those utilities would be charged separately. To offset that increase, lot rents would drop by $18.
In addition, Robison reduced the 10-day grace period for submitting rent payments to five, with stiffer penalties for those who pay late. While late fees in Anderson's agreement had been 10 percent of the total rent plus $2 per day, $100 would now be charged plus $5 per day beyond the five-day grace period. Nonpayment of late fees is deemed a default on rent.
At issue for many manufactured-home owners is the fact that they own or pay mortgages on their homes, but rent the land underneath. If residents view rent changes as unfair, their only recourse in most cases is to relocate their homes to another park a move that can cost several thousand dollars or they can sell or abandon their homes and take a significant loss.
In June, the Andersons filed their complaint for breach of contract in 3rd District Court, which Judge Anthony Quinn dismissed in late October. The couple have since amended their complaint and have asked for a jury trial in the case.
Anderson is past president of the Utah Manufactured Homeowners Action Group, serves on the executive board of the National Manufactured Home Owners Association and has been active in the fight to secure more rights for manufactured-home owners within the state of Utah.
Cottonwood Coves residents also received notice in November that lot rents would increase to $537 per month as of Feb. 1. For the Andersons, it means a $39 bump.
"There's nothing we can do about that," Steve Anderson said. He fears that some residents could be forced out because they cannot afford to pay.
"You're dealing with seniors. There are a number of people in this park on Social Security and their [monthly] incomes are less than $1,000," said Anderson, 59, who took a disability retirement in October from his job as a Salt Lake County appraiser.
While some of Anderson's neighbors echoed his concerns, they declined to give their names due to fear of reprisal.
Robison, who said he's owned the 16.5-acre park since 1999, expressed confidence that the Andersons' amended complaint will also be dismissed. When asked about the rent and fee changes, he said "it's just business, it's what we have to do it's what landlords have to deal with all the time." He then declined further comment.
The 168-site park at 300 E. Gordon Lane was established in 1962. Murray Mayor Dan Snarr said he's had numerous meetings with representatives of the Cottonwood Coves homeowners association who expressed the desire to have the right of first refusal to purchase their lots if the park went up for sale.
Reed Trussel, manager of Cottonwood Coves, said they get offers from prospective buyers once or twice each month.
"We don't even go down that road because we have no interest in selling the park," Trussel said.
At present, the community is about 10 percent unoccupied, Trussel added, and some homes are up for sale. KSL's online classifieds carried eight such ads.
In a related battle, Anderson hopes to secure financing to purchase property in the Mt. Pleasant area where he and his wife can set up their home on a permanent foundation. While he's heard that such loans are possible through FHA and VA, Anderson said he has yet to find a Utah bank to oblige.
"We want to move our home and convert it into real property," Anderson said, "and we're fighting the banks every step of the way,"
In the 2013 Legislature:
P Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, is sponsoring legislation to address landlord-tenant issues and mobile-home property rights. So far the measure is in process and is unnumbered.