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News / Clark County News

Changes at Hazel Dell RV park stir troubled waters for low-income tenants

Tenants cite confusion over rent increases, instruction to buy newer-model trailers

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: December 4, 2019, 6:02am
12 Photos
Lori Cuevas walks her dog up to the entrance of Sam&#039;s Good RV Park on Highway 99 in Hazel Dell on Nov. 25. She said she doesn&#039;t want to move from the park where she&#039;s lived for about 13 years.
Lori Cuevas walks her dog up to the entrance of Sam's Good RV Park on Highway 99 in Hazel Dell on Nov. 25. She said she doesn't want to move from the park where she's lived for about 13 years. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A change in ownership has created uncertainty for low-income tenants at a trailer park in Hazel Dell, with fears that rent increases or other requirements might force them to park on the streets.

The situation at Sam’s Good RV Park is the latest case where residents at the most basic entry point to housing are being squeezed as housing becomes increasingly less affordable in Clark County.

When tenants at the park off Highway 99 received notice on Nov. 19 that their monthly pad rent was going from $400 to $595 at the start of 2020, many worried they couldn’t cover the increase.

“I’m having a hard time making rent as is,” said Wilson Biggers, 55, who works two part-time jobs and is seeking a third. “I can’t come up with that.”

Several days later, after The Columbian visited the park, another notice was sent saying the first notice “was a mistake” and only applied to new tenants. Some of the notices were handwritten, had tenants’ names misspelled and had incorrect dates if a date was given.

Mixed messages

Park residents say they’ve received mixed messages since the park came under new ownership earlier this year. Sam’s Good RV Park was sold Sept. 27 for $2 million. Clark County property records list the new owner as a business called Sams Good RV Park LLC, which is governed by Christopher Baird.

Several attempts to contact Baird were unsuccessful. LinkedIn says Baird is involved in real estate investing and is CEO of Chris Baird Consulting. The Washington Secretary of State’s website lists the consulting business as administratively dissolved.

“We still have gotten nothing saying they sold this place,” said Lori Cuevas, a longtime park resident.

The 54-year-old said people got verbal notice that the place was sold and were told to clean up around their RV site. Cuevas said people were also told they needed to replace their worn RVs with newer ones, but tenants were given different model years: 2007, 2008, 2005, 2003.

“It’s just a joke. None of this paperwork is dated by them,” Cuevas said. “They’re trying to scare us off, is what we think.”

She doesn’t want to move but noted that some people are leaving the park of their own accord.

“We’re just tired of it,” Cuevas said.

‘Things will get worse’

Leonard Hill, 83, said he was told to take down weather skirting that keeps the trailer warmer, as well as a porch and a ramp that leads to the door of his trailer.

Hill lives there with his wife. The couple wonders about the future of the RV park.

“We’re old and retired and thought we were going to be comfortable for the next few years,” Hill said. “It’s like my mom always said, ‘Don’t worry, things will get worse.’ ”

Teresa Walker, 62, said garbage from around people’s RVs was initially piled on what’s known as the “penalty box,” a space with no access to hookups. She pointed out that many tenants, herself included, are disabled, elderly or both and had trouble getting rid of stuff.

“We’re all going to be parked along the side of the road,” said Walker, who’s lived there for about a decade. “Why didn’t they just let us know what’s going on?”

Another tenant, Cary Carter, gave a letter to The Columbian detailing his interactions with Baird, who he said told him to purchase a different RV. “I really don’t know what’s going on in this park,” Carter wrote.

On the edge

Sam’s Good RV Park is one of the older parks in town and is occupied by run-down RVs, some that have been parked there for years. The place is frequented by police. Clark County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Brent Waddell said deputies have responded to dozens of calls at the park since August, including disturbances, problems with neighbors and drugs.

For all its troubles, the park offers a cheaper alternative to apartment living, with a “fair market” rent of $1,234 for a one-bedroom apartment in the metro area, according to the department of Housing and Urban Development.

Cynthia Record, 46, doesn’t believe the rent increase notices were a mistake and heard that pad rents vary from person to person. She went door to door telling her neighbors what was going on. Only a handful of tenants could afford rent increases, she said.

“A lot of them are just trying to survive, you know. … We don’t really have anything,” Record said. “I still think that there should be some sort of law to protect us, because he could put the rent up at any time he wants.”

Besides rent increases, Record and other tenants are concerned about maintenance problems at the park, such as issues with standing water when it rains, unreliable utilities and shared mailboxes. Since 2016, Clark County Public Health has received nine complaints about the park.

Few options

Kate Budd, executive director of Council for the Homeless, said after the rent increase notices, people reached out to her organization seeking rental assistance. They also asked if the rent increase is legal (it is) and what options exist for parking older RVs (few).

Budd said parks accepting older RVs are typically located outside of Clark County.

“There is not a law in that location that I’m aware of that prevents large increases in rent,” said local attorney Ben Moody, who has experience with landlord-tenant laws.

Certain municipalities, such as the city of Vancouver, may require additional notice of rent increase.

Some landlord-tenant laws do not apply to mobile home or RV parks. Renting a pad is different from renting an apartment, and it comes with a different set of protections, Moody said.

He pointed out that Washington law says you cannot prevent the entry or require the removal of a park model for the sole reason that it’s reached a certain age. However, landlords can exclude or expel a park model for any other reason, including its failure to comply with fire and safety provisions.

Washington law defines a “park model” as an RV intended for permanent or semi-permanent installation that’s used as a primary residence, which is how the RVs at Sam’s Good RV Park are used. However, the law also defines “recreational vehicle” to mean a travel trailer, motor home, truck camper or camping trailer that’s primarily designed and used as temporary living quarters.

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In some cases, people are living full time in something designed for temporary use.

‘End of the road’

The law also says the duties of an RV park landlord include exterminating rodents or other pests, maintaining utilities and common areas and preventing the accumulation of stagnant water; residents at Sam’s Good RV Park say water pools when it rains and that the power sometimes goes out. Common areas are to be kept “reasonably clean, sanitary and safe from defects to reduce the hazards of fire or accident,” according to Washington law.

Aaron Reusser, 35, who’s lived at Sam’s Good RV Park for about two years, said there is nowhere else nearby to park old RVs.

“This is end of the road for many people here,” he said. “Everyone’s just trying to scrape by and live.”

Tenants worry that if rent does go up or they have to buy new RVs they can’t afford, they will end up on the street. Run-down RVs — both occupied and abandoned — parking along roadways in Clark County is an ongoing issue for the sheriff’s office.

For the last couple of weeks, Cmdr. Phil Sample has worked with the Clark County Council to figure out how to properly dispose of abandoned RVs. Many parks don’t accept older RVs due to environmental problems with the materials they contain, such as asbestos.

The group has looked into what other counties do and how to possibly help those living in RVs they park around town. Deputies currently aren’t taking any law enforcement action against people living in RVs parked along county roadways, Sample said.

Jim McLoone, 65, was evicted from Sam’s Good RV Park months ago while it was still owned by Speer Investments. According to Clark County Superior Court documents, he did not pay rent in May and by the end of June was removed from the park. He said he had lived there for about a dozen years. Now, he moves his RV around town.

McLoone lives on Social Security and said his RV is too old and beat up to for him to live in a different park.

When he spoke with The Columbian he had it parked on a street adjacent to Interstate 5, just a couple of blocks away from Sam’s Good RV Park. Tenants say many people park there or dump old RVs there.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith