4 Investigates: The Mobile Home Park Act

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SANTA FE, N.M. — Affordable housing is nearly impossible to find these days. Mobile home communities make up a huge stock of that in New Mexico, and investors are taking notice.

It turns out, a law that’s supposed to protect residents, just creates more barriers. Now one Santa Fe couple will lose everything.

“Come on, stay up there,” said Santa Fe resident Aaron Dennis, while caring for his tomato plants in his greenhouse.

A home that’s become a labor of love – from the year-round picking and planting to the boards and nails that went into building it.

“It’s almost like a custom home to us now,” said Dennis.

The greenhouse in Aaron Dennis’ mobile home is his favorite spot, with a view. One that reminds him why he and his wife moved to Santa Fe more than 45 years ago.

“He wants us to move it all, but that’s impossible,” said Dennis.

At 78 years old, he blames part of that impossible task on his age, and the rest on modifications they did over the years. His mobile home isn’t so mobile anymore.

Dennis said his longtime community, Dale Mobile Village, changed hands at the end of last year.

Along with new park rules, the new owner raised the rent.

The Dennis’ own their own home, their rent covers the plot of dirt it sits on, water, and access to a community dumpster. Even with no amenities on May 1, their rent will increase from $480 to $750.

“If he did it to throw people out, that’s one thing,” said Dennis. “But if he did it thinking people would just be able to come up with it, I don’t understand that thinking.”

KOB 4 tried to track down the new owner, Erasmo Ochoa – first at his Santa Fe office, then by phone. No one called back.

“These are folks who are often elderly, they’re on fixed incomes. One of the residents of the park is disabled and she gets $800 total in disability for the month, that’s what she lives on and her rent is being raised to $750,” said Maria Griego, director of Economic Equity at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

Griego works with the Dennis’ and others at the park. But she said this is a much bigger problem surrounding a law, she said the state isn’t enforcing.

“The New Mexico Attorney General has authority to enforce the act but historically the administrations have showed little to no interest,” she said.

It’s called the Mobile Home Park Act.

It’s supposed to protect residents and set standards for mobile home park owners. But folks in parks around the state will tell you it’s much more complicated than that.

“We’ve become cash cows for out-of-state investor groups,” said Gary Perry, a mobile home park resident in Alamogordo.

Perry said when he reported a violation of the Mobile Home Park Act to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office he was told to get private legal help.

“I contacted three different private legal firms one wanted a $50,000 retainer to begin researching our case,” said Perry.

The Act allows people to sue and collect attorney’s fees. But that’s a chance other people, who reached out to 4 Investigates, said they can’t afford to take.

“If these are New Mexico laws, they are, then why should we as private senior citizens, mostly living on fixed or limited income, have to seek private legal service and the expense of it to enforce, an on the book, New Mexico law,” said Perry.

“Although the Mobile Home Park Act (MHPA) does not explicitly state that the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General has authority to investigate and act on complaints that violate the MHPA, we are monitoring issues regarding potential violations of that act and are in communication with legal aid organizations about enforcement options,” said a spokesperson with the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General.

According to the Attorney General’s office, there has been one complaint specific to the Act over the last year and about 20 complaints about mobile home parks in general over the last couple years.

Unless residents sue, the lack of enforcement elsewhere seems favors park owners and investors who are eager to capitalize on affordable housing – with some websites promising big profit and fewer operating costs.

“These abuses will run rampant until somebody takes notice and enforcement is taken seriously,” said Griego.

Lawmakers failed to strengthen the Mobile Home Park Act this session. Lobbyists and the Manufactured Housing Association showed up to oppose the bill. KOB reached out to the Manufactured Housing Association multiple times, but no one returned our calls.

The bill, Senate Bill 298, would have capped rent increases and given residents the right to band together to buy a mobile home park before an owner could sell. It died in its first committee; an indescribable letdown for people like Aaron Dennis.

“The materials for this wall came from the boardwalk from young guns,” said Dennis, looking at the fence surrounding his home.

Dennis will soon sift through the things they’ve collected during their life here. Loading up what they can take with them in this gifted RV, their new home.

“I think we’ve got better things coming, I don’t know what,” said Dennis.

Or where they’ll go from here.