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Trailer parks a risky refuge for RVers

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As the U.S. housing crisis continues unabated, forcing growing numbers of low-income people into RVs as their housing of last resort, the question of where to park all those vehicles has become ever more confounding. Some end up on the streets, of course, and some in those RV campgrounds that have long-term sites available. But a significant if uncounted number end up in trailer courts, which superficially appear to provide a perfect fit.

Yet that security is increasingly illusory, as mobile home communities are being squeezed like never before. Just in the past couple of weeks, for example, the Holiday Park in Minot, ND, told its residents their lot rents were being increased by $400 a month, while residents of several mobile home parks in Mercer County, WV, were told to expect a near-doubling of their rents, by as much as $525. But at least they still have a place to live: Residents of Lesley’s Mobile Home Park in Riverdale, UT, have started getting eviction notices months ahead of a May 2023 planned redevelopment of the property.

The growing appetite for trailer parks

One explanation for such jarring developments is the growing appetite for trailer parks among institutional investors, who swept up 23% of all park sales in the past two years, doubling their acquisitions from the prior two-year period. Blackstone, the Carlyle Group, Apollo Global Management, Stockbridge Capital Group and Brookfield Asset Management are just some of the major “investors” who invariably follow up on their purchases with major rate increases—or by razing their newly acquired real estate to make way for more profitable uses.

Some of this can be chalked up as the inevitable, if deplorable, result of market economics. An extraordinarily large number of mobile home parks, for example, are located in once-rural areas that, over the past 40 or 50 years, have been engulfed by urban sprawl, transforming land of marginal value into real estate gold. But sprinkled among those flinty-eyed opportunists with big checkbooks and an unquestioning belief in “highest, best use” is a more loathsome creature, the unalloyed bottom-feeder who not only sucks his prey dry of anything of value, but also welshes on his debts and other obligations.

Predatory capitalism

A leading example of such predatory capitalism is Alden Global Capital, co-founded by Randall Smith, which for more than a decade has feasted on the bones of scores of community newspapers. Its depredations have spanned the American journalistic landscape, from the Hartford Courant (the country’s oldest daily) to the Chicago Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Denver Post and the Oakland Tribune—to mention only a few of its victims. Its initial modus operandi was to gut newsrooms by laying off staff, even as it raised ad and subscription rates. More recently, however, and as comprehensively reported by Julie Reynolds Martinez and by the NewsGuild, it has resorted to simply not paying its bills and walking away from leases after falling a year or more in arrears.

Newspapers have been in terminal decline for at least 15 or 20 years, making them—like an aging gazelle spotted by a pack of hyenas—an irresistible target for the Aldens of the world. It’s therefore noteworthy, as also reported by Martinez, that Randall Smith has now become transfixed by … mobile home parks. Working under a variety of limited liability corporate names, Smith has acquired approximately 20 such parks in North Carolina and a publicly untallied number elsewhere. And as might be expected from someone with his track record, his first step upon making each acquisition is an immediate rent increase, backed by eviction threats.

Rent increases

Residents of North Carolina’s Big Oaks Mobile Home Park, for example, received a 90-day notice of a rent increase that in at least some cases jumped 60%, from $440 a month to almost $700. Similarly, and at the other end of the country, residents at the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park in Orange County, CA, another Smith-acquired property, were notified early this summer that their rents were being hiked by up to 40%. Adding insult to injury, the notices were all in English, even though nearly all the Ridgewood households speak only Spanish.

While on one level it doesn’t matter which investor is putting the squeeze on a captive client base—a 40% rent increase may be equally intolerable regardless of who’s pocketing it—on another level it can matter a great deal. Sam Zell or Blackstone may be out for every last nickel, but Alden Global Capital and Randall Smith will take every last nickel while turning their properties into cesspools and garbage dumps. They’ve done it with newspapers, which once might have blown the whistle on such predatory behavior, and they’re doing it now with the last places some people have to live.



That’s bad news for RVers looking for safe harbor in a mobile home park, who face the unenviable task—if they’re going to be prudent—of attempting to pierce the corporate veil to find out who actually owns a property. Failing to do so, however, may mean even more heartache down the road for people who’ve already had more than their fair share.

[Full disclosure: I was for about a decade an employee of the NewsGuild and had a front-row view of Alden’s rapacity. It has gotten only worse since then.]

This post has been corrected to move Minot from South Dakota to North Dakota–illustrating once again why the two Dakotas should simply be merged into one. –AZ

*****

More from Andy:

Much of public will spend $350 to “glamp” in a tent, yurt, covered wagon

Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park, and of Turning Dirt, a step-by-step guide for finding, buying and operating an RV park and campground. Both books are available through bookstores or at Amazon.com.

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KellyR
1 month ago

Oh,, Andy; I hope merging the two Dakotas was tongue in cheek. You don’t want to start another war out west. lol

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
1 month ago
Reply to  KellyR

I missed the typo when I was proofing Andy’s post last night. Ugh! I hate it when I miss something so obvious. 😡 Have a good afternoon/evening, Kelly. 😀 –Diane

KellyR
1 month ago
Reply to  Andy Zipser

I still see some barbed wire along the border. lol

MattD
1 month ago

Once again, very informative article Andy…the corporate Robber Baron is alive and well.

Don H
1 month ago

Putting an RV into a mobile home park isn’t a long-term viable solution to affordable living. An RV isn’t a home, it’s a short-term recreational device. The fact that many folks are finding it the ONLY way they can afford to live speaks volumes about the disastrous state of our economy, and the failure of our government to maintain viable wages. No one who works a 40 hour week should be unable to afford to rent even a small apartment. Anywhere!
This has GOT to be fixed, and the solution is not to put more RVs in mobile home parks…

ken
1 month ago

Minot, ND. Why not, in Minot.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

Keep your tires aired up. You never know when you’ll need them. Also, don’t sell your tow vehicle.

Last edited 1 month ago by Tommy Molnar
Bob p
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Yep, we bought a home in central FL in a RV resort. We owned a truck and TT, we received free storage of our TT as residents. During this past summer we traded our truck for a hybrid car for gas mileage as the truck only got 11-13 mpg. Now the park has come up with a new policy and are charging $75 a month for storage, all this in the 8 months we’ve lived here. The TT is up for sale now.