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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Feb. 28, 2024

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Attorney general proposes rent refunds at mobile home park

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ABERDEEN — A letter from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General called on the owner of Leisure Manor Mobile Home Park in South Aberdeen to refund tenants for recent increases in rent and fees after finding some increases violated state law.

The letter, dated Oct. 3, spells out preliminary findings of the Attorney General’s office investigation into complaints from Leisure Manor tenants about new rules and business practices of Port Orchard-based Hurst and Son LLC, which owns dozens of mobile home parks across the Northwest, including the one in South Aberdeen and one in Woodland.

It gives Hurst and Son until Oct. 17 to either contest or concur with the findings.

“Our intent is to ensure fair and lawful practices in mobile home communities,” the letter states. “We acknowledge that these proposed resolutions do not encompass all outstanding issues and we will continue to work toward full resolution.”

Residents at the 55-and-older park formed the Leisure Manor Tenants Association last year after their rents rose by 37% and new fees were added to their bills when Hurst and Son purchased the park in November of 2021. Tenants fought the increases by testifying at the state Legislature, pushing for a rent notification ordinance through the Aberdeen City Council, and contacting mobile home legal advocacy groups.

Leisure Manor is the largest mobile home park in Grays Harbor County by number of spaces — 191 — and second largest in acreage. Tenants own the homes and lease the land they sit on.

Park residents last month filed more than 30 complaints with the Attorney General’s Manufactured Housing Dispute Resolution Program, according to association President Deb Wilson. The program is intended to resolve alleged violations of the Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act.

Wilson said she is waiting to hear more from the Attorney General’s office about the nature of the preliminary findings.

Since 2022, Leisure Manor residents filed about 65 complaints — some from repeating indivuals — with the program according to Brionna Aho, communications director with the Attorney General’s office. In an email, Aho said the letter is “an update to all tenants of various Hurst & Son parks that submitted complaints to the Program, including Leisure Manor. The purpose of the letter is to address several common issues concerning Hurst & Son policies across their parks, aiming to quickly resolve issues affecting all tenants. While not every tenant raised all the issues mentioned in the letter, the proposed resolution intends to cover all tenants, even those who did not submit a complaint.”

Aho said the letter is not a full summary of all complaints made to the program, and some will be addressed through an individual dispute resolution process.

The letter, signed by Sebastian Miller, enforcement attorney for the dispute program, addresses complaints about recent rent increases. Miller wrote that while the magnitude of rent increase are not subject to restrictions of the Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act, but the timing of those increases are. The office alleges Hurst and Son violated the act by imposing rent increases on non-lease renewal dates and modified lease renewal dates without proper agreement from tenants.

Wilson said many park residents have withheld signatures from new lease agreements. She said Hurst notified residents recently about another increase for 2024 that would bump rent from $635 to $750, which is up from the original $485 rate tenants were paying two years ago. According to Wilson, Hurst and Son recently agreed to move the proposed increase to June of next year, instead of January as was originally planned, to comply with the 90-day notification period for rent increases required by state law for mobile home parks.

The city of Aberdeen strengthened that regulation in July, imposing a 120-day notification period for increases greater than 3%.

Besides rent money, Leisure Manor residents could receive refunds for fees. The letter also states a $65 fee for violating park rules is “excessive” and “not clearly justified” under the act.

“We request Hurst and Son reduce the fee to $20 and refund the difference to affected tenants,” the letter states.

Residents also complained about increases to water and garbage fees, although the Attorney General’s office found “no evidence of overcharging” for utilities, stating the law allows Hurst and Son to transfer those costs to tenants, although specific fees remain under investigation.

The letter also acknowledges that park residents weren’t notified before the park was sold in 2021, which is now required because of a bill passed by the Washington state Legislature earlier this year, but states “past violations are beyond our jurisdiction.”

The bill amended the Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act and gives tenants the opportunity to form a resident-owned community and purchase the park themselves. It was part of a mixed result in the state Legislature for Leisure Manor tenants and mobile home advocates, who testified in favor of bills to control rent hikes that died before reaching a vote.

Wilson said she hopes Leisure Manor’s recent momentum in the fight against rising rents will carry over to next year’s legislative session.

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