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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rent hike displaces residents after a $7 million mobile home park sale near Puyallup

By Angelica Relente Puyallup Herald

Wayne Kiser is a clock collector.

He has more than a dozen clocks, all of which have different shapes, sizes and colors. Some are over 100 years old. Most of them are hanging on his living room wall while the rest are sitting on a shelf.

The clocks show that time doesn’t stand still for anybody, even for Kiser.

Early next year, the 64-year-old said he must decide whether to sell all his clocks or give them away. The new owner of the mobile home park he lives in just outside Puyallup is raising the rent. That means Kiser and his neighbors are deciding whether to sign a new lease or leave. He and other tenants say they’re facing a more than 50-percent increase in their rent.

Kiser didn’t pay rent previously, because he helped manage the mobile home park for the former owner. His rent would have been $510 if he hadn’t managed the park. His new rent would be $805 come January.

“I’m unsure on what I’m going to do,” Kiser said.

He said he has a little more than $6,000 in his bank account. He said he has to try to live off $1,000 per month until his unemployment benefits kick in.

“How do I pay $800 a month, pay my electrical bill, buy food and everything? I don’t know,” Kiser said.

Kiser owns his home in the Cottonwood Mobile Home Park, but not the land where it sits. The same is true for his neighbors. The mobile home park is just off River Road, on 80th Avenue East. Kiser said the mobile home park has 100 spaces. About 95 of them are occupied as of Oct. 5.

He moved there in 2008. A few months in he started working for the owners, doing maintenance work and crafting rules and regulations. He ended up collecting residents’ rent down the line.

He stopped working for the mobile home park soon after Hurst & Son LLC bought it July 19. It sold for $7.15 million, according to records from the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Office. About a month after that, residents said they received a packet that included a new lease agreement as well as new rules and regulations.

Crosscut reported in August that Hurst & Son LLC owns 56 mobile home parks in 21 Washington state counties, and 35 of those parks were purchased in the last six years. The mobile home management company is known for large rent increases that price its residents out of their homes, Crosscut reported.

The company is based in Port Orchard. It’s run by Caleb and Kristina Romack, Crosscut reported.

The News Tribune called and emailed Hurst & Son LLC multiple times. The Romacks didn’t respond for comment. The News Tribune did reach the mobile home park’s new general manager, who declined to comment.

As the South Sound struggles with a lack of affordable housing, mobile home parks in the region have been sold, closed and redeveloped. That leaves mobile home park residents, many low-income, with limited housing options when they’re forced to move.

For example, The News Tribune reported in August 2022 about Meridian Mobile Estates. Timberlane Partners purchased the property at 202 27th Ave. SE in Puyallup for $6.5 million with plans to build apartments there — 42 families were forced to move.

Mobile homes are challenging and often impossible to move, depending on the age of the home and how it’s been renovated over the years. This means residents forced out may lose the equity in their homes.

Kiser said his mobile home can’t move. There isn’t a tow company in the area that will touch it, he said. “There’s too much liability on it,” he said about his 1967 home.

If a resident is able to move their home, they may struggle to find new land to rent. The number of mobile home spots available to rent across the country has decreased in recent years as parks have closed.

Why is rent increasing?

The new Cottonwood lease states the “rent must increase substantially” because the mobile home park has septic systems that must be repaired or replaced. There are also “additional repairs” needed in the community, such as maintaining its roads and trees, the lease said.

Kiser said he doesn’t know if it’s possible to repair septic systems at the mobile home park as the septic systems are over 40 years old.

Natalee Lender, another resident at the mobile home park, said she understands there may be a need to repair or replace the septic systems. However, she thinks the tenants shouldn’t be charged for that.

Lender said she and her husband have plans to sell their home because of the upcoming changes. They’re looking to move to Montana.

“We don’t live in a high-priced area,” she said about living along River Road. “This is supposed to be affordable living.”

Lender, 41, used to live in Spanaway. She moved to the mobile home park because it was affordable for her. She first moved to the park in 2008. She lived there for nine years, then left briefly before she returned in 2018.

Lender said she and her husband pay $530 per month for rent and about $15 per month for water, depending on the amount they use.

With the new lease she would have to pay $805 per month for rent, almost $300 more. That wouldn’t include utilities or other unforeseen fees, such as a $150 fee listed in the new agreement if a resident uses more than 9,000 gallons of water.

Tenants can incur a $65 fee if they don’t comply with the rules and regulations.

They aren’t allowed to wash their vehicles on the property. A home can’t have more than two vehicles unless the landlord approves.

Trampolines, swimming pools over 20 gallons and play structures are prohibited. Tenants aren’t allowed to “roam through the park after dark,” according to the new lease.

Lender said some residents have already moved out as of Sept. 13. A few are considering selling their homes.

“People are barely getting by,” she said. “It’s things like this that cause people not to be able to afford their monthly bills anymore.”

Some residents have already signed their new lease to avoid eviction. Others are waiting. If Lender wanted to stay, she said she would need to sign the new lease by November 2024. The increased rent wouldn’t take effect until then.

Kiser said he bought his home for about $11,000. He worries he’ll have to sell his home for less than it’s worth in order to finalize a sale before he has to be out in January.

Lender bought her home for about $23,500. She also plans to sell her home. She hopes to sell next spring or summer before she has to be out.

Hurst & Son LLC added a first right to refusal in the new lease when it comes to sales. That means a mobile homeowner who signs the new lease must notify the manager if they decide to sell their home and reach an agreement with a purchaser.

If the landlord gives the homeowner 5 percent of the selling price as a down payment within ten days, they must sell their home to the landlord. If the homeowner doesn’t notify the landlord about an agreement, the landlord can go to court and void the sale within 60 days. The homeowner will be liable for legal fees and court costs if the landlord prevails.

Lender said getting 5 percent of the selling price upfront is not enough. If she only received that amount, she and her husband wouldn’t be able to afford new property in Montana, she said.

Like Kiser, Lender said moving her home isn’t an option.

“A home over 10 years old is not worth moving,” she said. “It’s going to fall apart.”

What is Pierce County doing to help residents forced to move?

Pierce County Human Services spokesperson Kari Moore wrote in an email: “This situation is unfortunately becoming more common in our state and country, but we are encouraged by the state’s support through the relocation assistance program.”

The state Department of Commerce has a Manufactured/Mobile Home Relocation Assistance and Coordination Program. It’s for residents who own a mobile home and live in a park that will close. They can get cash assistance up to $11,000 or $17,000, depending on the size of the home.

The program doesn’t apply to mobile home park residents whose rents are increasing.

Moore said the Human Services department is in the early stages of developing “a strategy to support mobile home park residents” and others experiencing housing instability.

Asked for specifics, Moore said the strategy will include “some sort of state legislative component, but it will entail a proposal for what the county could set up as a proactive response to protect mobile home parks as part of housing preservation.”

Moore’s email went on to say: “At this point, Pierce County Human Services doesn’t have anything more to add to the conversation.”

Lender said the sight of children playing on the streets is the norm at the Cottonwood Mobile Home Park. Parents and adult children live next to each other, taking care of one another. It’s “a big family park,” she said.

She likes living there because it’s nice and quiet. Road noise barely makes it to her home. Sometimes owls perch on a nearby tree. They’re close to the city but it feels like they aren’t, she said.

When Lender isn’t working she tends to her rose garden. She said she has a rose for every color. They bloom around spring or mid-summer. She planted roses because they bring back memories of her stepmother — they were her favorite.

She wants to take her roses to Montana, but she doesn’t know if she’ll get fined for removing them. She’s worried she’ll lose her security deposit if she changes the landscaping.

Lender wishes the rent wasn’t increasing sharply. She said her neighbors worked hard to get their homes, and that some have already been forced to leave because of the new rent.

“They’re messing with people’s lives, and that’s sad,” she said.