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Eagle Point park residents say 'no' to fee boost

EAGLE POINT — Residents of Butte Crest Park say that the dozens of "For Sale" signs popping up across their manufactured-home community are simply signs that they have had enough.

"Every time we turn around, we get another piece of paper about another fee increase," said Monika Sayre, vice president of the park's tenant association.

She estimates that roughly half of the residents in the 117-unit park have posted signs, primarily to bring attention to a string of rent increases and other proposed fees in little more than a year — but they're also willing to entertain reasonable offers.

"This is an option for homeowners," Sayre said. "If the park owners realize people can't afford to live here, maybe they will do something."

Sayre has lived in the park for more than seven years in a light blue manufactured home where she runs an in-home day-care center, tending her grandchildren and a flock of other youngsters. She initially saw few and minor increases in the rent she and her family paid for the space their home sits on.

With the latest proposed increase, set to take effect in March, however, her rent will have climbed $90 since June 2006 to $425. The rent includes water, sewer, trash and cable television.

"We moved here because it is affordable housing," she said. "If you have a mortgage and space rent, it can be $1,000 or more a month. These manufactured homes are nice, but you could get a house for that."

She and her neighbors are particularly concerned about the changes since Follett Investment Properties Inc., a Gold River, Calif.-based company that owns manufactured-housing communities across the country, bought Butte Crest last year.

The previous owner, Gary Whittle, who developed the park, gave residents notice of a $25 rent increase effective March 1, 2008. Follett bought the park in February, with the understanding that, with that increase, rents would be $395, said Kathie Campbell, regional manager at Follett's corporate headquarters.

"We just sent our first rent increase," she said of a $30 increase set to take effect this March.

She said the company strives to increase rents only once annually at about the same time each year to provide residents with security and planning ability they would have with a lease.

In April, Follett notified residents of a policy change that would set rents at $420 a month for new residents when a home sold. Campbell said the company wanted to clarify and standardize rental agreements.

In July, Follett asked residents to pick up and sign new copies of rental agreements, and park rules and regulations, also part of the effort to make sure files were up to date and in order, Campbell said.

Sayre and other residents protested and formed a tenants' association. She was elected vice president.

"We're all concerned and we wanted to do something good for everyone," she said.

During the summer, Follett proposed billing water, sewer and garbage services separately to hold down costs for all residents, Campbell said. However, because the city of Eagle Point bills the entire park on master water meters, the park would be considered a water purveyor under state law if meters were installed on individual lots. Water purveyors must have a state license, authorities said. Follett wasn't interested in getting into that business, so the proposal died, Campbell said.

"None of our costs have gone down," she said, explaining why this year's increase is still necessary. "Even in a recession, prices aren't going down."

In particular, she noted, taxes and cable subscription costs have gone up.

Rising rents always are a top concern for residents of mobile home parks, said Theresa Wingard, program coordinator of the state's Manufactured Communities Resource Center, part of the Housing and Community Services Department.

Under state law, rent increases are allowed without mediation or negotiation, as long as landlords provide 90 days notice, she explained. She described an annual increase as "normal" and said the average increase is $20 to $30.

Park residents do have the power to object to changes to park rules under a process set out in state law, Wingard said. The resource center provides information on that and other issues, including dispute resolution and landlord training.

Sayre said she would like to sit down with Follett officials to air residents' concerns. Campbell said she plans to come to Eagle Point in the coming months and hopes they can all communicate.

"It's a good clean court," said Meredith Cox, one of the residents who has a "For Sale" sign posted. "We love it here, but if they price us out, we'll go."

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

Monika Sayre, vice president of the Butte Crest Park Tenant Association, and other park residents have placed “For Sale” signs in front of their homes to protest what they consider unreasonable rent and fee increases. - Bob Pennell