Navarre Village residents upset over rent hike, aim for Ohio rent control law

Steven M. Grazier
The Independent
Navarre Village residents Betty Holland, from left, Jeff Yekel and Bonnie Blanc are among many neighbors who are upset about a recent $70-a-month property rent hike they believe is unfair. About 150 community residents attended a public meeting recently to voice their displeasure with the increase.
  • The Navarre Village 55 and older community is lobbying Ohio legislators to establish a rent control policy statewide.
  • Village residents are irked that their monthly property rental rate shot up to $425 per month from $355 under new ownership.
  • About 150 residents attended a public meeting recently and may form a tenants association to lobby state officials on rent control.

BETHLEHEM TWP. – Betty Holland has been a content Navarre Village resident for 13 years, but her view took a turn last fall when new owners of her manufactured home community upped the rent.

"I've always felt happy and safe here. Then all of the sudden — wham!" said Holland, 91, when discussing the more than 14% increase.

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Many residents in Navarre Village, which caters to those 55 and older, are irked about the rental hike that has them scrambling to stay above water financially.

Residents own their manufactured or mobile homes, and many are paying a monthly lot rental rate of $425, as established by Legacy Communities LLC in September 2022. The $425 rate is up from $355 a month, or $70 more than what was under the previous ownership.

Navarre Village at 5605 Erie Ave. SW has 247 lots, most of which are occupied by tenants 55 years old and up. A few lots are vacant.

Residents whose annual leases have yet to renew are in line to pay the higher amount sometime this year.

Andrew Fells, chief operating officer of Legacy Communities, said in a prepared statement to The Independent that establishing rent is based on multiple factors, such as capital investments, operating and supply costs, mortgage debt service costs and other fees at comparable properties.

"We ... understand our residents may have temporary challenges paying rent due to job loss, illness and unforeseen medical bills, etc.," Fells said in an email. "Our 'Catch Up Payment Program' offers an installment plan in those circumstances. This also supports our goal of keeping residents in their homes and limits turnover in our communities."

But a number of folks living on fixed incomes worry that the new rental rate will make their homes unaffordable, and life may become financially unstable down the road.

"If the rent continues to go up (in future years), it won't be worth it to me (to stay here)," said Bonnie Blanc, a Navarre Village resident since 2019.

Rising mobile park rent is a nationwide issue

With rents rising at mobile home parks nationwide, advocates are touting a cooperative model with residents themselves buying the communities as a way to preserve one of the last affordable housing options for people with low- or fixed-incomes and to give them a greater voice in managing their parks.

So far these resident-owned communities are proving to be a reliable option. None of the more than 300 in the network of nonprofit ROC USA have defaulted or closed. One decided to sell back to the county housing authority it originally purchased from.

“They have a 100% track record of success, which tells you that it’s working for the residents,” said George McCarthy, president and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, think tank. “Resident ownership is an absolute bulwark against the intrusion of institutional capital in the market.”

The push to promote resident ownership comes as parks have become a favorite target of investment banks, hedge funds and other deep-pocketed investors.

Nearly a third of mobile home parks in the U.S. have been bought by such investors since 2015, lured by reliable cash flow and high returns from raising rents at nearly double the general rental market rate, McCarthy said.

“They’re trading on the desperation of people living in the parks,” he said. “There’s no place that they can take their homes if they can’t afford to keep paying the increasing rents.”

Park residents often own their home but rarely the land beneath it. So if a landlord raises rent, residents can be evicted or forced to sell their home. If a park is sold to be redeveloped, mobile homes that can’t be moved are demolished.

The country’s roughly 43,000 mobile home communities are home to 22 million people, according to the Manufactured Housing Institute, a national trade organization. But only about 1,000 are resident-owned, according to Carolyn Carter, deputy director at the National Consumer Law Center.

Some resistance comes from residents, many of whom are seniors and people with disabilities who may not want the responsibility of managing their park. Others argue rent control or stricter zoning regulations protecting mobile home parks from redevelopment are more effective.

Housing advocates say they hope that $225 million in recently approved federal funding may provide some relief for mobile home park residents . Starting this year, the money will be funneled through grants to states, resident-owned parks, nonprofits, and local and tribal governments to preserve mobile home communities and improve infrastructure.

Navarre Village caters to those 55 and older

Navarre Village has 247 residential lots, which are occupied by tenants 55 years old and up. A few of the lots are vacant.

The $425 per month lot fee includes trash, sewer and water service. There are no community amenities, such as a clubhouse, walking trails or a swimming pool.

Fells said additions to the living community are forthcoming.

"Navarre is slated to receive $1.2 million of capital investment to repair neglected infrastructure, add amenities and improve the community’s curb appeal," he said. "Communities we acquire are often neglected by previous owners and require necessary and significant capital investment."

Navarre Village is at 5605 Erie Ave. SW in Bethlehem Township , which is just north of the village of Navarre .

Longtime resident Jeff Yekel said rental property increases over the years have come in $5, $10 or $15 increments every two to three years, and the $70 hike for renewed leases is outrageous.

Navarre Village resident Jeff Yekel is one of many community neighbors upset with a recent property rental hike.

"There was no notice at all. People here have been really upset," said Yekel, a 16-year village resident.

Fells said residents were notified by mail of the new rate.

Shortly after changing ownership last fall, residents wanting to sell their homes also found out that new, incoming residents are required to pay $700 per month for a single lot.

Holland called that move unfair.

"I don't want to leave my kids a house they can't sell," she said.

Public meeting draws more than 100 Navarre Village residents

Approximately 150 folks attended a meeting March 29 to discuss their frustration and options, such as lobbying Ohio legislators for rent control laws and organizing a Navarre Village tenants association to help voice concerns more succinctly.

State law does not forbid how much and how frequently property management companies can raise rental rates. So Navarre residents are aware of a potentially long, uphill battle.

Dozens of residents plan to write letters to Ohio representatives, urging them to pass rent control legislation statewide, Blanc said.

"I'm a capitalist, so I'm fine with (Legacy Communities) making their money," she said. "But don't go bilk other people."

Includes reporting by The Associated Press.

Reach Steven at steven.grazier@indeonline.com . On Twitter: @sgrazierINDE

Legacy Community offers statement on Navarre Village rent increase

Here is the full statement emailed to The Independent from Andrew Fells, chief operations officer of Legacy Communities:

Legacy Communities is committed to our residents and to providing affordable and quality communities. We take pride in maintaining and improving our communities, fostering a positive culture, and ensuring residents experience high-level customer service.

Legacy is a "family business." We have decades of experience and we operate with honesty, integrity and fairness.

Our business model is reliant on keeping our existing residents in-place, and affordability is top of mind when rent increases are considered. We also have a responsibility to maintain and improve the community for current residents and to attract new residents. We are consistently reviewing operating expenses, necessary infrastructure repairs and upgrades, planned improvements, and analyzing the local market to ensure our communities are affordable.

We take many factors into consideration when establishing rent including but not limited to significant capital investment; operating and supply costs; the cost of any mortgage debt service (loan interest and principal payments) on the loan secured by the property; and rents and other fees at comparable properties.

The harsh economic realities of the past year have been particularly challenging. The interest on our loan has more than doubled as a result of the dramatic rise in interest rates. We are also facing a regional CPI (consumer price index) above 8%, cost increases for labor, insurance, taxes, utilities, supplies, and vendors who pass through their own cost increases. Rather than compromising on maintenance and allowing the community to fall into disrepair, we sought to lessen the impact of these increased costs on our existing residents by implementing higher rents on new residents entering the community.

The communities we acquire are often neglected by previous owners and require necessary and significant capital investment. Navarre is slated to receive $1,200,000 of capital investment to repair neglected infrastructure, add amenities and improve the community’s curb appeal. Our experience is that this investment should have a positive impact on our residents’ home values along with the fact that the community maintains rental rates below comparable quality Ohio senior MH (manufactured home) communities.

We also understand our residents may have temporary challenges paying rent due to job loss, illness, and unforeseen medical bills, etc. Our “Catch Up Payment Program” offers an installment plan in those circumstances. This also supports our goal of keeping residents in their homes, and limits turnover in our communities.