4 Investigates: Out-of-state housing game squeezes mobile home owners
The manufactured home next to Rochelle Smith’s home sits empty.
“This is the last place before heaven,” Smith said.
For some of her neighbors in the 55+ mobile home community, she said, “That is exactly what it has been. To have them spend their last few years fighting to keep a roof over their heads at 70, 80, 90 years old, is not right.”
The man who lived there died recently. Smith said his rent, like hers, increased three times in the last three years.
“We were just taken aback because it was so much higher than it had ever been before,” she said.
Across New Mexico – and the rest of the country – out-of-state companies are buying mobile home parks and raising lot rental rates. While mobile homes are often owned by the residents, the land they sit on is owned by mobile home park owners.
Smith’s lot rental rate increased by nearly 25% since the new owners took over.
Florida-based Legacy Communities bought Albuquerque Meadows in 2021. People living in the 55+ gated community said changes are noticeable under the new ownership.
“There’s weeds everywhere. There’s a stove and refrigerator on the deck. Those are also big no-no’s,” Smith said. She has pictures of green swimming pool water and floors ripped up in the clubhouse after a flooding incident.
She said enforcement of park rules has been lax under the new ownership.
Legacy Communities would not interview with 4 Investigates. The company sent a statement, which said it fixed issues with the swimming pool and is renovating the clubhouse – part of a $400,000 investment in the property. Legacy Communities said its business model relies on keeping people in their home.
But Smith and other homeowners contend the problems are piling up with the bills. Many of the people here live on a fixed income.
That dynamic is not unique to Albuquerque Meadows.
“If they keep raising the rent, I’m going to be homeless,” said a woman who declined to be identified at the Carlisle Plaza Senior Mobile Home Park. KOB agreed to grant her anonymity because of her fear of retaliation by her landlord.
She showed 4 Investigates a notice that her lot rental rate increased by 30% in one year.
“Some people have families,” she said. “Me, I don’t have a family I can rely on. So, I will be out. And I don’t know where to go from here.”
Preventing new mobile home park owners from pricing out their tenants relies in part on state law.
“We don’t really have very robust laws to protect people from that type of pinch, in New Mexico,” University of New Mexico property law professor Elizabeth Elia said.
She said there’s been a wave of out-of-state companies looking at mobile home parks as profitable investments.
“About 20-25 percent of mobile home parks across the nation are owned by real estate investment companies that are not local,” Elia said.
Is it wrong?
“I don’t necessarily see it as wrong or right. I see it as creating potential social problems that we all need to be aware of,” Elia said. “Ideally, what we’d also do is protect people that are currently living in housing that’s affordable and let them make sure that they’re able to stay there.”
4 Investigates showed how lawmakers failed to strengthen New Mexico’s Mobile Home Park Act during last year’s legislative session.
Many legal protections for renters exist in a lease from landlords. Tenants said both Legacy Communities and COARE Communities have opted for month-to-month leases to allow the companies to make changes to rental rates more quickly according to residents in both parks.
Some people, like Sara Terry, are fighting for greater protections for mobile home park residents.
Terry outlines how those fights have unfolded across the country in the documentary “A Decent Home”.
“This is heading for collapse because you can’t sustain this kind of greed,” Terry said after a showing of her film in Albuquerque. “I think every single one of us has to stop and realize that we are in times that require us to ask the question, how much is enough?”
Part of “A Decent Home” shows an inside look at Mobile Home University, a course dedicated to teaching investors how to make money from buying mobile home parks.
Professor Elia noted New Mexico could be particularly vulnerable because, “New Mexico has either the highest- or the second-highest rate per capita of people living in mobile and manufactured homes.”
Terry produced the film to use as a tool to help park residents organize and provide a roadmap to better protect people at risk of losing their mobile homes.
Rochelle Smith said that’s exactly what she planned to do.
COARE Communities, the owners of Carlisle Plaza Senior Mobile Home Park, also appear to be based out of Florida. The company did not respond to calls or emails requesting comment.