BY MAIRE O’NEILL
La Mesa Mobile Home Park residents collecting their mail from mailboxes in the park Friday discovered packet of papers attached to the mailbox unit marked “Compilation of all signed received regarding the La Mesa Mobile Park Rules & Regulations”.
The Los Alamos Reporter received multiple calls and messages from residents who had viewed the papers and found not only copies of the 2+ pages of concerns about the lease documents that were previously submitted to management with more than 32 signatures, but also individual emails and letters containing resident’s email addresses, physical addresses of residents, phone numbers, names of residents in homes, even information on hours residents are not at home. Residents expressed concern that their personal information and correspondence with La Mesa management was made public.
The Los Alamos Reporter first became interested in what’s happening at La Mesa Mobile Home Park on North Mesa in May when she was contacted by several residents who were concerned about new leases and rules sent to them for signature.
A group of residents and several individual families submitted emails and letters to La Mesa and eventually a flyer advertising a “La Mesa Community Meeting – New Lease Questions and Meet Brent Smith” at New Beginnings Church on June 20. The flyer was attached to the mail box units.
The Los Alamos Reporter went to the meeting at the request of residents but was asked to leave by Brent Smith who introduced himself as the owner of La Mesa. The reason he gave was that the meeting was only for La Mesa residents, however, the Reporter identified at least three non-residents attended the meeting including Gary Stradling and James Wernicke, candidates for Los Alamos County Council.
The Reporter, however, was able to hear parts of the meeting, during which discussion between Smith and La Mesa Community members seemed to be productive. What has been clear since the community began to submit concerns about the new lease and the rules and regulations document is that the two documents had some different versions of the same issues and they had not been cross-referenced accurately. The best time to have had the public meeting might have been when the new documents were rolled out so that issues could be discussed as happened June 20. Another factor seems to be that there are no regular office hours at La Mesa. Residents report that it is a struggle to get in touch with La Mesa Management and the office is usually closed all day while the husband and team that manages the property are at other job locations.
At the June 20 community meeting, Smith discussed some of the issues most raised by tenants with regard to the new lease documents. He said there was common confusion with the term “premises” in the lease and that the “premises” is actually the lot a home is placed on and not the home itself. He said he wanted to be very clear about that because the lease states that the landlord may enter the premises. He stressed that if there was a possible life-safety code violation, La Mesa can reach out to the appropriate government agency and that government agency can schedule an inspection with the tenant.
“I don’t want anyone to think the lease gives us the right to come into your home. The ‘premises’ is the lot,” Smith said.
He also noted concerns about La Mesa wanting right of first refusal if a tenant wanted to sell their home. Smith said the company operates somewhere over 1,000 spaces at different communities. He said across those 1,000 spaces, the company owns maybe two homes and that they are not trying to buy everybody out and turn their mobile homes into rentals.
“Let me be clear, we have no intention of trying to buy homes locally. That is not part of our plan, not part of our business. One reason we bought La Mesa is that it’s almost entirely tenant-owned, and what we know from doing this for a while is if you have a community that’s full of tenant-owned homes, it’s a better quality community,” Smith said. “It’s not rocket science… people tend to take care of what they own and so it’s a nicer community. We will not buy a community that’s all rental homes. The rare times that we used the provision is because we think it’s a great home and we would hate to see it leave the community, we think it will resell to another owner but we do not hold them as rental stock. They can only match the best offer received by the seller.”
He said La Mesa is just asking sellers to give them a chance to match an offer.
“You know what’s great about us? Our checks clear. We don’t have to be approved by anybody. You don’t have to worry about somebody getting approved for a new lease or financing and you can make a deal with us to sell your home… and the seal is signed within a couple of days,” Smith said.
Another issue Smith discussed was the requirement that tenants include La Mesa, LLC as an additional payee on their homeowner’s policy.
“The simple fact is there are things that can happen to your home and to your property and things that you control that can impact others around you – both your neighbors and potentially the park and our property,” Smith said. He gave the example of a mobile home community in Georgetown, Texas where a home at 2 a.m. burned to the ground.
“Thankfully everybody made it our safely except the pets. The fire was so hot it melted the siding on the home next to them and destroyed some of the infrastructure of the park. This insurance requirement is very, very standard in our industry and is nothing new,” he said.
He noted that insurance companies in this part of the country have been abandoning this market because of the wildfire risk. La Mesa had the same issue last year and was finally able to find one carrier to write the policy at twice the price, he said.
“There have been a lot of questions about trampolines. Insurance companies won’t cover them….That’s why it’s in our rules. There are similar issues with kiddy pools. The danger is they get filled up and left and some little kid slips in and you can drown. It doesn’t mean you can’t have them, but you can’t leave them out….Tarp keeps a kid that snuck into the pool down,” Smith said.
Smith indicated that La Mesa’s new insurance company inspected the park and gave them a list of things that have to change. He said the upgrades on the playground are going to cost about $25,000.
“And we’re doing it. And we’re happy to do it,” he said.
We’re happy to grandfather pets in. There are new rules for smaller animals. Pets that were here before.
Asked about rules regarding pets and why La Mesa wants to have no dogs taller than 15 inches at the shoulder, Smith said it is always a challenge to find middle ground on that issue. He said big dogs create big problems, big noises, and that big smells in small yards can start to become pretty unpleasant. With regard to doghouses, he said dogs frequently get left out in bad weather and frequently create all of the noise complaints. He explained that some of the rules about pets are there because there will be someone who lets their dog run in the park and say there is no rule about it.
It was explained that one summer there were five children attacked by vicious dogs at the park and that’s how the breed restrictions started. While there a lot of people that are very mindful about their dogs, what creates the rule is “the five people that don’t get it”.
“We’re all trying to get to the place where you all have wonderful, quiet, peaceful enjoyment of your homes and where we as a park don’t have liability and risk. At the end of the day what do you want from us as owners? You want us to maintain the park. You want us to keep the infrastructure working. And you want to be left alone. And what do we want from you? We want not to have lawsuits, and not have trampoline blowing into people’s yards. All these rules, unfortunately they’re not there for the everyday case, they’re there for the rare case,” Smith said. “I can tell you we did not wake up two months ago and say, ‘You know, we need to change the way we’re running the place. Let’s put in some really, really tough rules and let’s change everybody’s lifestyle’. You’re not going to see a difference and frankly a lot of questions we got about the new lease, are reflected in the old lease – they’re things that already existed.”
Although La Mesa officials held the meeting, they pointed out that they only have to make the new rules available, that they don’t actually have to do anything with them by state statute.
“That’s all it says. You don’t have to do anything with them. You don’t actually have to talk to people. You don’t have to implement any of the feedback. … If I’m in your shoes the language we have to provide in the letter makes it sound like a negotiation and it’s really not per the law. Per the law what we could have done was say, ‘Here are the rules. Give us your feedback and we’re going to be publishing the feedback later this week, which we also have to do by statute, and goodbye,” Smith said.
“I don’t expect everybody to be happy with every decision we ever make, but I want you all to understand that we’re here by choice. We’re not trying to hide out. I don’t want to be part of a community that I can’t go walk around in. And there are there are plenty of those. For what it’s worth we’re here on purpose,” Smith said. “The conversation we have had tonight is about the beginning of a relationship over this and I hope you feel we have been candid with you and honest with you about the things that we won’t change, the things that we definitely will change and the things that we’ll look at and then we’ll communicate with you. We want it to continue to be a great place. It’s always going to be hard to have 80 homeowner families plus management, plus ownership to agree on every point.”
Meanwhile, La Mesa tenants were asked to execute their new leases effective July 1. Beginning Aug. 1, water and sewer charges will be included in rheir monthly statement. All resdients will now pay $615 a month, regardless of the size of their lot,
An addendum to the lease state that those who do not sign the lease by July 12 will receive notices asking them to specify if they intend to vacate the park or want to go on a month-to-month tenancy “at a rental ate of the market rate plus 10%) Singlewide lots will be $844 per month and doublewide lots will be $888 that includes water and sewer. If tenants to sign a new lease for a year, the rate would be $685 for singlewide and $725 for a doublewide lot, plus water and sewer. It is a common misconception that local mobile home parks are sources of affordable housing.
Several changes to the current lease as a result of the June 20 discussion will be incorporated into a revision of the lease documents and then republished.