East Allen Township mobile home owners seeking protection from raising rents

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The Express-Times
By: Lynn Olanoff
March 26, 2013

Residents of an East Allen Township manufactured home community are seeking greater protection from rising land rents.

Residents of the Greenbriar Village development say owner Equity LifeStyle Properties has been unjustly increasing their land rents, and there's nothing they can do about it.

Equity is the largest manufactured home community company in the United States and in some cases has increased land rents more than 100 percent in a year, said Randy Schaffer, the president of the Greenbriar homeowners association.

Manufactured home owners have no repercussions to take to combat rent increases, especially if the complex owner steeply hikes rents to drive out residents to sell the land for another purpose, Schaffer said.

"Landowners now have the legal right to price us out of our homes," he said. "They now have the license and incentive to take our homes and are doing so."

Greenbriar resident Tom Blackton has seen his monthly rent increase from $374 to $539 a month in the 10 years he's lived there. Mobile home owners typically own their homes and rent the land they sit on.

"I can't even sell it now because people would walk away if they found out," he said.

The residents of the 319-home Greenbriar complex have been told to expect another rent increase starting April 18, Blackton said.

Equity LifeStyle Properties also owns local manufactured home communities in Breinigsville, Orefield and Walnutport, Schaffer said. In one Equity community in California, the company raised rents to as high as $5,000 a month and rents were raised by $200 a month in one Equity community in Illinois, Schaffer said.

The association invited state Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, and an attorney from Regional Housing Legal Services to its monthly meeting tonight to plead its case. Freeman last year sponsored a bill that gives manufactured home owners more rights if their complexes are sold. He introduced the bill six years ago following the abrupt sale of the Barbosa Mobile Home Park in Bethlehem Township, Pa.

Freeman told the Greenbriar residents that getting his first bill passed was a major fight but that he's willing to try again to help them get more protections. He said he favors manufactured home owners having similar rights to condominium owners and that mobile home land rents should be tied to the consumer price index.

"It's the right fight ... so we'll see what we can do to improve conditions," Freeman said.

Freeman said he's also been pushing for a meeting with the state attorney general's office to discuss how the office can help protect mobile home owners' rights. Mobile home owners also are protected under the state Consumer Protection Act but the attorney general's office hasn't done enough to enforce the act's provisions for owners, Freeman said.

Greenbriar residents say they plan to take part in a national "day of action" protest against their owner on April 17, the day before they're expected to hear about their rent increases. The homeowners association meeting concluded tonight at 9 p.m. and Equity couldn't be reached after.

"Many people in this community are living on Social Security," Blackton said. "People are hurting here."

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