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Cascade Park Estates residents face uncertain future as rents to rise in new year

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published:
5 Photos
Claudette Derricotte discusses the issues of a potential rent increase at her manufactured home in Cascade Park Estates with her husband, Bobby. "I wanted to understand why," she said.
Claudette Derricotte discusses the issues of a potential rent increase at her manufactured home in Cascade Park Estates with her husband, Bobby. "I wanted to understand why," she said. (Joshua Hart/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Residents at Cascade Park Estates in east Vancouver received a notice on Sept. 29 that their rent would go up by $95 on Jan. 1 or as soon as possible after Washington’s moratorium on evictions and rent increases ends.

That would make land rent at the 55-and-older manufactured-home community $945 a month. While Cascade Park Estates residents have been vocal in the past about what they considered unfair rent increase notices, this time they believe the notice is unlawful.

“We’re pretty mad about it,” said Claudette Derricotte, 71, who’s reached out to the governor’s office and local legislators about the matter. “The moratorium is clear to me.”

In mid-October, Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency proclamation was extended to the end of 2020. It places a moratorium on evictions, rent increases and the threat of a rent increase. The latest version also included an amendment that allows manufactured or mobile home park owners to issue notices of rent increase so long as the increase occurs after the moratorium ends. Landlords are required to give a 90-day notice, which meant there wasn’t enough time for a Jan. 1 lease renewal date.

It puts Cascade Park Estates tenants in an uncertain situation as January approaches. Will their rent go up or not?

“The governor made a very bad mistake in leaving a portion of the people out,” Derricotte said, referring to owners of manufactured homes.

For Derricotte and her husband, their mortgage and monthly lot rent represent 42 percent of their monthly income.

“Everybody is terrified of losing their home,” said Cascade Park Estates resident Cathy Berry who added that she, too, feels abandoned by her legislators. “Where do we go or what do we do?”

Lynda Scott, 69, said she’s concerned about constant rent increases at Cascade Park Estates where she’s lived for three years.

“It makes it difficult to plan your life,” Scott said.

One question that Cascade Park residents have is why the state gave manufactured-home parks an exemption from the ban on rent increase notices.

“This issue was brought to us by representatives of landlords and was discussed with the eviction moratorium workgroup,” Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, wrote in an email. “Statute requires these landlords to provide that notification, and they were concerned about their ability to do so under the moratorium as written before the new language was added.”

The workgroup — which consists of housing advocates and landlords but no manufactured or mobile-home owners or park owners — agreed this was a reasonable modification to the moratorium.

“The change in the eviction moratorium permits notification of future rent increases for manufactured and mobile-home communities only when that increase is part of an existing clause within the current lease,” Faulk wrote.

The amendment is meant to comply with state law on notification of rent increases under the manufactured/mobile home landlord-tenant act.

After the Attorney General’s Office received dozens of complaints from Cascade Park Estates residents, it reached out to the park’s owners, Denise and Michael Werner.

Linda Dalton, special assistant attorney general, sent them a letter asking that they rescind the rent increase notices immediately because they violated the governor’s proclamation.

“The proclamation declares a moratorium not only on evictions, but also on increasing or threatening to increase the rate of rent for any dwelling or parcel of land occupied as a dwelling,” she wrote.

Dalton said in reviewing the matter she noted the Werners had been previously advised about this prohibition regarding a similar rate increase notice at Hazel Dell RV Park, which they also own. That notice was rescinded.

Philippe Knab, managing attorney at the Northwest Justice Project’s Vancouver office, also sent a letter to the Werners, saying their notice was not permissible when they sent it and that they should withdraw it. “If you fail to do so, that in action will be deemed a refusal and we will take appropriate next steps to prevent any illegal rent increase,” Knab wrote.

An attorney representing the Werners and Cascade Park Estate LLC, Mark Passannante, responded to the Attorney General’s Office on Nov. 11. In his letter, he said they believe the notice does not violate the governor’s moratorium on evictions and rent increases and contains no threatening or coercive language.

“The notice of rent increase, while served prior to the last amendment to Proclamation 20-19, meets each and every requirement identified in the Proclamation as expressly permitted,” Passannante wrote. He also noted that the proclamation is not clear or plain on its face and that vague penal statutes should not be enforced. He then requested the attorney general reconsider his position that Cascade Park Estate’s notice was issued in violation of the proclamation.

Special Assistant Attorney General Pamela Anderson wrote back Nov. 24 saying a rent increase notice need not be evil or intentionally coercive to constitute a threat.

“Instead, it is enough that a notice states the landlord’s intent to act in a particular way in the future. … Threats to raise rent may motivate economically distressed residents to move at the expiration of their current leases because they know they will be unable to afford the increased rent rate once it takes effect,” Anderson wrote.

The exception for manufactured/mobile home parks to give notice of a future rent increase was added after the notice was given to Cascade Park tenants.

“The fact that the Emergency Proclamation was amended to create this narrow exception is further proof that the Proclamation previously prohibited such rent increase notices by manufactured housing/mobile home park owners,” Anderson wrote. She said if the notices aren’t rescinded legal action will be considered to enforce the terms of the governor’s emergency proclamation.

As of Wednesday, the Attorney General’s Office had not received a reply to its latest letter.

Spokesperson Brionna Aho said in an email the Attorney General’s Office has received over 200 complaints and inquiries related to mobile home parks and manufactured homes.

“Not all of them relate to rent increases — we have had questions related to many provisions of the eviction moratorium including inquiries about evictions, late fees, rent increases, a park owner’s intent to sell the property, and other matters,” Aho wrote.

The office previously filed a lawsuit enforcing the emergency proclamation that resulted in a Nevada-based property management company paying nearly $300,000 to Washington tenants.

With the moratorium set to expire Dec. 31, Cascade Park Estates residents and tenants across the state are wondering what to expect in the new year.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
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