BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Earlier this week, the Los Alamos Reporter was asked to meet with a group of residents from La Mesa Mobile Home Park at a local park to discuss a new lease agreement and set of park rules and regulations La Mesa plans to implement July 1. More than 25 residents showed up, each concerned about a letter they received notifying them that their existing leases are terminating June 30. Attached were some 40 pages that included the new lease agreement and 20 pages of rules and regulations. The tenants were given until May 27 to submit in writing their comments about the regulations.
The main concern of the tenants, some of whom own their mobile homes and others who lease homes from La Mesa, was that they all believe they will be in violation of one or more terms of the new documents. It should be noted that mobile home parks across the nation are experiencing similar situations as parks previously owned by local individuals or companies, are being taken over by corporations that own more than one, often several parks and are located out of state. In Los Alamos, there are only two mobile home parks. La Mesa and Elk Ridge Mobile Home Park.
“People think mobile home parks are ‘affordable’ housing options, but they’re not,” one tenant said. “To lease a small lot at La Mesa for a mobile home costs $615 a month. Add to that the rent for the home or the mortgage payment and they are far from ‘affordable’. What’s sad is that once a mobile home is hooked up in a park, most people can’t afford to move it out of the park and there is nowhere to move it to. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place and it’s almost like being held hostage.”
Tenants at the informal meeting noted that they are from a wide cross-section of the community from Los Alamos National Laboratory employees to small business owners, local government employees and service workers.
“We hear people complaining about homeowners associations but we have the opposite problem. We have no way to unite and represent ourselves when unfair and intrusive rules are put in place. What we dispute is not the basic rules such as keeping the lots free of weeds and trash, it’s the other stuff,” another tenant said.
The new lease agreement includes a provision that tenants will have to pay for water and sewer service and a $7 monthly service fee for metering, monitoring and billing. It states that La Mesa may also allocate charges for “line loss, off-space and other consumption” to tenants. Even though tenants will be paying for the water they use, they are not allowed to wash their vehicles, parking pads, homes or RV equipment.
“Approved animals” at the park will be indoor animals only; the examples given are small birds in a cage and/or a small dog or cat. Dogs “may measure no more than 15 inches in height at the shoulder” or they will not be approved. Needless to say, many existing residents who have “approved” dogs are afraid that they will have to get rid of them.
“Approved animals are only allowed in the home or on a leash while being walked by you,” the rules state. Animals can’t be left alone outside and are not to be allowed to run in a fenced yard. No doghouses or dog runs are allowed.
Minors, presumably people under 18, are not allowed to be left unsupervised in a home and are not allowed to “roam in the community”. Clotheslines are banned and patio furniture is only allowed to be temporarily placed outside for “seasonal use”. Landscaping plans have to be submitted for approval and “rocks, shrubbery, flowers and lawns are the standard landscaping in the community. Written permission is required for trampolines, playground equipment and above ground pools. Use of playground equipment owned by the park is at the tenant’s own risk.
“These rules and regulations are only part of what bothers us. I am also worried about the rights the park has in terms of entering homes,” one man said.
He went on to state that the park rules now limit the number of persons in a home to two persons per bedroom plus one and wondered how that would affect his family. He noted that small vegetable gardens are allowed in the rear area of the spaces “where they will be least visible from any street”. He said that within 20 days of discontinuing the garden, the tenant is required to install sod or other landscaping approved by the park.
Tenants were also concerned at the lease provision that requires the park to have right of first refusal if the tenant receives a bona fide offer on the home that they accept or intend to accept.
The New Mexico Legal Aid website notes that some changes in leases cannot apply to people already in the park—for example, if a new rule prohibits pets, tenants who already have pets are allowed to keep them. Also if a new park rule tells tenants how they have to landscape their leased space, the rule will only apply to new tenants. In the case of La Mesa, the company is terminating all existing lease and requiring the signature of new leases.
New Mexico Legal Aid says that like tenants in regular rentals, mobile home park tenants have the right to form a tenants’ union to deal more effectively with unreasonable landlords.
“A tenants’ union is two or more tenants who have a problem or a goal in common. A tenants’ union is also known as a ‘tenants’ association’ or ‘residents’ association’….The general purpose of a tenants’ union is to protect the rights of tenants. Protecting tenants’ rights can include efforts to change local or state law to improve the ability of tenants to protect themselves from unfair landlord practices”, NMLA says.
La Mesa tenants were expected to turn in their comments to park management Thursday evening.