After living in Meadow Manor Village in Evergreen for the past five years, Shirley Pate recently received a notice on her door from the trailer park’s managers saying the garbage service had changed and the property was under new management.
“We didn’t even know they bought the owners out,” Pate said. “All they said at the bottom of the note is that it’s now under new management. That’s all we got.”
The new owner is Havenpark Capital Partners, a Utah-based real estate investment firm with a history of complaints over dramatic rent increases and other practices. The company has appeared in newspaper articles across the country detailing the complaints and prompted a letter from a U.S. congresswoman in Iowa last year.
Chris Seifert, Havenpark’s regional vice president, confirmed that Havenpark purchased Meadow Manor on Sept. 9.
At NeighborWorks Montana, a statewide program that helps residents purchase “manufactured communities,” or trailer parks, program manager Danielle Maiden says Havenpark Capital historically purchases properties above market price. While Meadow Manor is worth roughly $15 million, it’s rumored that Havenpark owners paid $17 million, according to Maiden.
Havenpark currently has properties in 11 states, including Montana, with four in Billings, two in Great Falls and now one in the Flathead, acquiring 1,600 units in nine months.
“They are able to come in somehow and offer way above market value,” Maiden said. “They build out financials based on future rent increases. That’s what they pay current owners for.”
In Great Falls and Billings, Havenpark managers have facilitated water meter installations on every home, which Maiden says is a technique used to start charging water and raise utility rates, a cost which is normally included with rent in most trailer park communities.
Residents at Meadow Manor have reported receiving notices about the installation of water meters.
“They find creative ways to nickel and dime the residents, then they implement these rent increases,” Maiden said.
Seifert, however, says it’s a standard procedure that Havenpark implements on every property it acquires.
“Typically these communities are pretty old and the meters are older … a lot of them are broken and not reading accurately,” Seifert said. “It’s a good investment to upgrade them.”
At Highwoods Mobile Home Park in Great Falls, Maiden said one resident calculated that Havenpark was making $2,600 on the community’s trash bill alone. Since acquiring the property nine months ago, Havenpark has added $45 to the rent, according to Maiden.
Seifert says at Meadow Manor Havenpark changed the trash service because the former owner did in-house trash pickup, a service that Havenpark does not offer. The additional charge is now billed with the rent as a separate charge, Seifert said.
Havenpark currently has properties in a number of states, including Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and now Montana, where there are no restrictions on rent increases. The Montana Housing Coalition is drafting a bill to submit this legislative session that would give tenants the opportunity to purchase the park property.
“That would basically make it so a park owner would provide notice to residents prior to going under contract and it gives them time to make an offer,” Maiden said.
According to a rent survey, an average lot rental in the Flathead is $450, which is what lots cost at Meadow Manor. While COVID restrictions prevent property owners from raising rent prices, Maiden says they raise rents when tenants move out.
Seifert says Havenpark typically conducts a market analysis on the property after it’s acquired and implements upgrades accordingly. While Seifert has not been given information on Meadow Manor’s specific analysis, she says officials will “be looking at that and determining our business plan.”
“Once we review the market and where the property is at, there could be a (rent) raise,” Seifert said.
Pate says four of her neighbors moved out as soon as they heard Havenpark took over.
“It’s unaffordable for anyone on a fixed income,” Maiden said. “I think it’s just a really big marker. The news has really highlighted how many people are moving here due to COVID and manufactured housing is a huge staple to affordable housing in Montana. It’s the only housing that’s unsubsidized by the government.”
While Pate and her husband rent both the lot and their home, they already pay $1,000 a month, barely making ends meet as it is. After hearing that their rent would probably rise in the future, her husband started working extra hours to prepare while Pate continues working full-time as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Immanuel Lutheran Communities.
“He barely sees his daughter,” Pate said. After five years in their home, Pate wants to stay, but she realizes they might have to find a cheaper place if the rent goes up.
But finding a less expensive home could pose challenges. Maiden says most of the trailer parks in the Flathead are full, which would push residents to places like Polson, Ronan, Hungry Horse and Libby. It also costs anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 to relocate trailers and many manufactured communities won’t accept homes built before 1990.
“From what I’ve seen so far, I’m not appreciative of how they are,” Pate said. “I wish they had contacted us ahead of time, and if they’re going to raise the rent, they better say something … I’m worried.”