VILLAS – Residents of the Shawcrest Mobile Home Community and Marina showed up in force at the Jan. 18 Lower Township Council meeting to voice complaints about rising lot rents and the reduction of services.
Resident John Niewisnski, speaking on behalf of more than 30 residents who attended the meeting, asked the council to adopt a rent control ordinance to stop prohibitive rent increases.
Niewinski said the residents of the mobile home park recently received rental agreements for 2023, reflecting an average 14.1% increase in lot rent, with increases ranging from 8.3% to 18.6%.
According to Niewinski, Legacy Communities LLC purchased the Shawcrest Mobile Home Community and Marina in fall 2020, and since then, their rents have risen 27%.
Niewinski said anyone who purchased a mobile home at Shawcrest after Legacy took ownership saw a 65.6% increase in monthly lot rent. He said anyone who purchased a mobile home there after 2022 saw a 55% increase.
“Many of the homeowners in Shawcrest Mobile Home Park are seasonal occupants but there are year-round residents living in the park, most of which are senior citizens living on fixed incomes,” Niewinski said.
He said the average rent increase is well above the Social Security cost of living allowance.
“Further, these steep increases in rent have forced many homeowners to sell and has caused potential buyers to back out of sale agreements,” Niewinski said.
Another resident of Shawcrest said the mobile home park was a “happy place” when it was family-owned. She said since Legacy took over, the company has been fined by Lower Township Code Enforcement.
She claimed the maintenance staff quit and contractors have likewise stopped working.
The resident said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) had been attempting to help residents of manufactured home communities in Elyria, Ohio, which is a suburb of Cleveland. Brown sent a letter, dated Dec. 19, 2022, to Legacy Communities Chief Executive Officer Patrick O’Malley, addressing his constituents’ concerns over increased rents and reduced services.
When asked about Legacy’s response, Brown’s office sent the following statement: “Sen. Brown’s office has not yet received a written response to his letter and is working to obtain one as soon as possible. Despite Legacy Communities’ lack of transparency, including no publicly available contact information, Sen. Brown’s office has gotten confirmation that his letter was received, and that Legacy Communities plans to respond. Senator Brown will continue to hold companies like Legacy Communities accountable to their Ohio residents.”
The residents said they held a community meeting Jan. 14, before attending the Lower Township meeting.
Niewinski said Legacy Communities LLC also owns Cape Island Resorts, in Lower Township, and Shawcrest residents have been in contact with them. According to Niewinski, the Cape Island residents are receiving the same sort of rent increases.
The residents asked the council to impose rent control legislation to keep rents affordable at the named mobile home parks. Niewinski cited Middle Township Code (Chapter 175.18) on mobile and manufactured homes, which regulates any rent increases.
Legacy Communities responded to the Herald’s request for comment, saying the company is committed to its residents and to providing affordable and quality communities.
“We take pride in maintaining and improving our communities, fostering a community-like culture, and ensuring residents experience high-level customer service,” said Legacy spokesperson Molly Boyle.
Boyle said in her response, Jan. 20, that, as of that date, Legacy has invested nearly $500,000 in upgrades to the Shawcrest community. This includes necessary electrical and water system infrastructure upgrades, roadwork, the completion or contracting for new signage, fencing, and common area enhancements.
“Legacy works diligently to mitigate costs to keep rent increases reasonable and to keep residents in our communities. Unfortunately, as with most industries, economic conditions have changed drastically. Interest rates have more than doubled, insurance costs have increased dramatically, and most common expenses have surpassed CPI (consumer price index). We sought to lessen the impact of these increased costs on our existing residents by implementing higher rents as homes turn over,” Boyle said.
Concerning complaints about trash collection, Boyle said the company sympathizes with residents and has been using staff from nearby communities as a temporary solution while trying to find a driver with the proper licenses and safety records.
“I am pleased to report a new driver will start on Monday (Jan. 23),” Boyle said.
Lower Township Code Enforcement Officer Walt Fiore said he visited the property Jan. 18 and issued a violation for storing trash on the property. He said he was told someone would be out by end of day Thursday (Jan. 19) to remove the trash, and when he inspected the property Jan. 20, all the trash was removed.
Attorney Robert Belasco, of Stefankiewicz & Belasco, responded on behalf of the municipality at the Jan. 18 meeting, saying the Middle Township legislation is from the 1990s.
He said rent is a private matter between a tenant and landlord and that New Jersey does not have a rent control act, which might make it difficult for the municipality to take any action.
He added that there is a lot of merit to rent control, but also a lot of risk, such as making the municipality the target of litigation.
“We have no guidance from the state on this, so it’s a discussion the council needs to have,” Belasco said.
There was no comment from any member of the council on the matter before going into a closed executive session on unrelated matters.
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