Thursday, September 24, 2020
Sept. 24, 2020

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Residents concerned about Hazel Dell RV Park pad rent increase

They question legality of move under state’s eviction moratorium

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published:
4 Photos
Michele Houston, left, and Cindy Genschorck, right, walk through Hazel Dell RV Park, formerly known as Vancouver RV Park, to talk with tenants about an upcoming online meeting to discuss recent rent increase notices.
Michele Houston, left, and Cindy Genschorck, right, walk through Hazel Dell RV Park, formerly known as Vancouver RV Park, to talk with tenants about an upcoming online meeting to discuss recent rent increase notices. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Residents at Hazel Dell RV Park are concerned about a recent notice stating that monthly pad rents would go up to $750 in September. For some, this is a rent increase of $170, or nearly 30 percent.

“It makes me sad. It makes me want to cry,” said Cindy Genschorck, who’s lived there for six years.

Genschorck and local legal aid organizations question whether the increase is legal under Washington’s current eviction moratorium, which is in effect until mid-October and contains several stipulations.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s order says landlords, property owners and property managers are prohibited from increasing or threatening to increase the rent rate for “any dwelling or parcel of land occupied as a dwelling.” The order applies to less traditional residences, such as long-term care facilities, transient housing in hotels and motels, Airbnb, motor homes, camping areas and recreational vehicles.

The state attorney general’s office is charged with enforcing the moratorium and is fielding complaints about alleged violations. As of Thursday, the office had received 3,600 complaints statewide related to the moratorium. In response, the office contacted 2,737 renters and 1,885 landlords.

The state is supposed to convene a working group by next month that would discuss various issues including potentially authorizing rent rate increases.

Hazel Dell RV Park residents received a 30-day notice at the beginning of August. It says the rent is going up to cover adjusted costs and market conditions.

Management could not be reached for comment by press time on Friday.

Genschorck said the situation is stressful and that she wants to help her neighbors.

After Genschorck got the notice on her door, she logged on to nextdoor.com and connected with Michele Houston, the mother of a resident. Houston’s adult son has autism and lives at the park because it’s what he can afford while retaining some independence.

On Thursday evening, Genschorck and Houston distributed fliers with details about an upcoming online town hall meeting to discuss the rent increase.

Northwest Justice Project’s Vancouver office is hosting the meeting via Zoom on Thursday to educate tenants about their rights and answer any questions they have. Managing attorney Philippe Knab said he hopes the meeting gives people a sense of ease and comfort knowing their rents can’t legally be raised.

“Their rights are clear,” Knab said. “They’re entitled to stay there at the same rent.”

He encourages tenants who believe their landlord is violating the eviction moratorium to contact the attorney general’s office. Typically, Knab’s legal aid office meets with potential clients in person, but due to COVID-19 precautions much of that work moved online. He’s unsure how successful the virtual meeting will be.

Resident Bill Wickens plans to attend the online town hall meeting and ask the attorney some questions.

“The rent increase will take 75 percent of my income,” Wickens said. “It doesn’t leave me much.”

He’s lived in the park since 2006. Previously, he planned to travel, but in 2002 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and now lives off Social Security income.

Despite the potential increase, he and his dog Rocky plan to stay put — his neighbors having recently helped him move into a newer trailer with air conditioning.

“There aren’t any other parks available,” he said.

Some are leaving

Residents are concerned that if people are forced to leave the park due to a rent increase or inability to pay rent, they won’t be able to get into a park anywhere else. Some of the RVs at Hazel Dell RV Park are older, while many parks only allow newer RVs. They say this would lead to an increase of RVs parked on public roads.

“I would go somewhere else if there was somewhere else to go,” said resident Gary Dunn. “There are people here who barely make it.”

He said he already knows people are leaving due to the notices.

“This is not right,” Dunn said. “I don’t think they’re aware of the rules or even care.”

Mark Spurter said his pad rent is separate from his water and electric bill. He lived in his trailer on the side of the road for a couple of weeks before moving to Hazel Dell RV Park. Before that, he was living in a duplex where the rent went up $500 after it sold, which he could not afford.

Houston feels panicked about the rent increase. Her son, Zach Houston, receives $720 in monthly Social Security benefit. If the rent goes up to $750, “he’s out.”

She helps him pay for groceries and his cellphone. When she called his Social Security case manager for guidance, Houston said she learned there were few options for Zach: get a roommate, move home or become homeless.

Her son can’t drive, so the RV park’s urban location near a bus line is advantageous, and she hopes he can stay there.

“There are as many stories as there are trailers in this park,” said Traci Hopp, who’s lived there for more than 1 1/2 years.

He believes park management is trying to make monthly rents equal across the park. Currently, people pay different amounts. He’s looking for clarity around the definition of what a tenant or resident is and what rights people living in RV parks have.

Most viable option

Not all residents are familiar with the eviction moratorium or how it applies to them as people paying month-to-month RV pad rent.

Some heard that the rent increase was due to an increase in property taxes. Hazel Dell RV Park (also known as Vancouver RV Park) was bought in May 2018 for $11.9 million. It’s owned by a Vancouver family that owns about a dozen parks in Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon, Denise and Michael Werner and their daughter Brooke Torres. They also built an RV park near the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.

For many low-income people or those on fixed incomes, living in an RV park is the most viable rental option.

Hazel Dell RV Park residents say they haven’t noticed many changes under the new ownership. The road was resealed and repainted, guest parking was removed, and a security company was hired to monitor the park. There’s also a new security gate up front that can be finicky, and the hours at the on-site clubhouse changed.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
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