WEST STOCKBRIDGE -- As a rent dispute continues to simmer between residents and the owner of the 35-unit Mill Pond Mobile Home Park, a public informational meeting is planned tonight to review proposed bylaws for the town's new Rent Control Board.
The 7 p.m. meeting at Town Hall is set against the backdrop of a lengthy dispute between the Mill Pond Tenants Association and Bay Plum, LLC, the new owner of the park.
After Bay Plum purchased the park from the Gennari family in March 2011, the base rent for lots containing owner-occupied units was jacked up from $260 a month to the current $365.
A representative of the Mill Pond Park LLC, the management company that runs the site, contends the increase was necessary to make a number of costly improvements.
But the tenants association is challenging the new leases.
"We have been illegally charged high rents and have been overcharged since May 2011," said association president Nancy Hale. Under threat of eviction, all residents have paid their rent, she added.
Hale complained of dirt roads with potholes, inadequate lighting and lack of trash pickup.
"People here maintain their own homes," she said. "Everybody owns their trailers, they pay rent for the land, and they pay for electricity, heat and water."
There are close to 100 residents in the 35 mobile homes, mostly retired couples and singles on limited incomes, as well as five young families.
Eric Levesque, manager of Bay Plum and Mill Pond Park, said he has followed rent-increase guidelines issued by the state attorney general's office. He plans to attend Monday's Town Hall session along with his attorney from Kraus & Hummel, a law firm based in Plymouth.
Bylaws covering rent issues at the park on Route 41 just north of downtown will be explored, said Administrative Assistant Mark Webber. The town's legal counsel, the Boston-based Kopelman and Paige firm, will present the draft document. Lawyers for the mobile home park's owner and the tenants association are planning to attend.
"It's unlikely everything will be sorted out that night and there may be a second hearing," Webber explained. The Selectmen, acting as the Rent Control Board, eventually will vote to present the document to voters at a special town meeting. The state Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick approved establishment of the board last summer.
Levesque contended that the park was "falling apart, it was a mess, the septic system was a shambles" when he acquired it.
He listed costly improvements to the property -- a rebuilt septic system, connections to town water, repair of gravel roads, rehabilitation of "derelict homes," cleanup of an oil spill he says was caused by a tenant, and hiring an on-premises manager.
Asserting that he has lost money so far, Levesque said the current rent is similar to other mobile home parks in the county.
"The rent was too cheap before," he said. "If the park had been well-maintained, it could have commanded the going rate, which is what I'm charging now."
But Hale listed rents in Pittsfield's Allendale Pine Park at $196, while Rock Manor in North Adams charges $249, with paved roads, garbage pickup and street lights, and Cheshire's Pine Valley collects $268 monthly for lot rental.
Levesque pointed out that garbage pickup is "not an entitlement situation -- people bring their garbage to the transfer station for free. You can never satisfy everyone." Levesque cited his other expenses -- excise-tax and property tax payments for each home, maintenance, and periodic pump-outs of the septic system.
"It's not a garden of roses," he acknowledged, regarding ownership of the park. "I've not taken a salary, I'm putting money back into it."
Levesque described the current rent as stabilized, with no further increases expected except to adjust for inflation. He claimed that many people were not paying rent when he purchased Mill Pond, and that each of several tenants still owes about $4,000 in arrears.
"We're reasonable human beings, we're just trying to get along and understand each other's issues," Levesque said.
If You Go ...
What: West Stockbridge informational session on rent control board bylaws.
When: 7 p.m. tonight
Where: Town Hall (former Village School), 21 State Line Road (Route 102).
Agenda: Discussion of proposed bylaws, including establishment of base rent, following a 40 percent increase in monthly charges at Mill Pond Park, the town's only mobile home facility.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto