VILLAS – Since the beginning of the year, residents of the Shawcrest mobile home community have been appealing to the Lower Township Council to help them stop what they consider unreasonable rent increases.
At the council’s Monday, Nov. 6 meeting, when mobile home residents again complained about the increases, Township Solicitor David Stefankiewicz addressed the matter.
Stefankiewicz said he could not give legal advice to the public, but added that his law partner, Robert Belasco, was at a meeting earlier in the year and mentioned at the meeting that the courts have been “very tenant friendly” in their rulings on landlord/tenant issues.
The solicitor said that, if a tenant feels a rent increase is unreasonable, he or she may pay the former rent and put the increase amount into an escrow account, then go to court, and the judge would render a decision.
Shawcrest resident Helen McGuire called the rent increases “unconscionable,” adding that the current mobile home park owner, Legacy Management LLC, has been imposing double-digit lot rent increases since it purchased the property in December 2020.
The Shawcrest Community and Marina, located in Lower Township, is a manufactured housing community and marina composed of 317 housing sites, 125 boat slips and 21 wave-runner slips. McGuire said the slips do not come with a lot, but are rented separately.
John Barton told council that when he moved into Shawcrest in May the lot rent was $650 a month for the previous resident, and it was increased to $850 for him. He said he received a letter saying that in a couple weeks the rent would be increased to $905.
“How does the rent go from $650 to $905 since May?” Barton said.
McGuire said her lot rent has increased from $225 to $650.
Township Manager Mike Laffey said he received a communication from Legacy that cited several reasons for increasing lot rents, including comparable rents from other local mobile home parks that were used in setting current rates.
McGuire said “half the time” the trash is not picked up. Laffey replied that was something the township could do something about and told the residents to call the township every time that happens. He said code enforcement officers responded to such complaints in the past and would write violations.
“Call every time,” he said.
McGuire said talking to the Legacy management doesn’t seem to help.
“When you talk to them they tell us it’s none of our business,” she said. “We need help.”
McGuire said she recently lost her husband, and is questioning her ability to live in retirement at Shawcrest. She told the council Shawcrest is not a “vacation spot” for the residents, many of whom, she said, are on fixed incomes.
“New people are charged $850 and now $905? For what?” she said.
Kevin McDonough said he moved to Shawcrest in June 2022 and has seen his rent increase from $750 per month to the announced $905, which comes to nearly $11,000 per year. He said many at Shawcrest might see a [Social Security] cost-of-living increase of 3.5%, while Legacy is asking for 11% more this year.
Eileen McDonnell said that her lot rent increased 25% in two years, and that she has periodic problems with her water.
“The water out of the kitchen sink is a brown sludge,” McDonnell said.
She said every time this happens the water is turned off, and after the repair it is worse for a while before clearing up. She said she doesn’t know if she can take on another 11% increase in lot rent.
“Have a heart for all of us,” she said, gesturing to the audience. “We need some kind of relief.”
Barton was a little more direct in his appeal to the council.
“You’ve got to help. Do your job,” he said.
Laffey repeated that the township can enforce codes and urged people to call. A little over a year ago there were reports of a failing water supply system, and the township contacted the county Health Department. He said he did not get any action report from the department. He said there was another report of cloudy tap water, and the Health Department was again notified, with similar results.
The manager said the township sent a letter to Legacy noting the water issues and trash removal problems. He said the township also advised Legacy the residents were asking for rent control; however, he said, it was not likely the township would go that route.
Laffey said most rent control is in North Jersey, and 80% of the state does not have rent control. He said Middle Township established a rent control ordinance for mobile or manufactured homes in 1990, adding, “They are not using it at this time.”
He said a rent control ordinance would insert the township into landlord/tenant disputes, which the township is not likely to want to do. He said if an ordinance was enacted it would likely result in litigation.
When asked for comment, Andrew Fells, chief operating officer, Legacy Communities, provided the following statement: “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 community-like culture, and ensuring residents experience high-level customer service.
“Trash is regularly picked up in the community. There was an issue with trash pickup earlier this year, but the issue was resolved.
“When the community receives a complaint about a water issue, we immediately inspect and resolve the situation. Water is regularly tested and we do not have any current water issues.
“Since taking ownership, Legacy has invested nearly $625,000 in upgrades to the Shawcrest community, including to water system infrastructure, electrical system upgrades, roadwork, fencing, and common area enhancements.
“We work diligently to mitigate costs to keep rent increases reasonable and to keep residents in our communities. Unfortunately, as with most industries, economic conditions have changed drastically and operating expenses have skyrocketed. Our team will continue to work with financial integrity to control costs as much as possible, as we all navigate the current economy.”
Contact the author, Christopher South, at email@example.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.