Tenants, landlords feel pinch after rent hearing for West Stockbridge mobile home park
WEST STOCKBRIDGE — A rent control hearing for a local mobile home park ended with a continuance, but not before both the landlords and the tenants saw some setbacks.
It was the landlords who saw the biggest setback as the board voted unanimously to strip $24,000 in mortgage payments from the park's operating budget, erasing the deficit their paperwork had claimed.
"As a rule, the cost of purchasing the property cannot be part of operating costs," said town counsel Jonathan Eichman.
The recent hearing was to determine whether the board would raise rents, lower rents, or take no action at Gennari's Mill Pond Trailer Park. The petition to raise the rents was brought by the Gennaris, represented by Lois Gennari and Pam Bartlett, owners, and Liza Gennari, the park's manager. The tenants' petition to lower rents was brought by park resident Evie Kerswell and represented by a large crowd of park occupants.
The West Stockbridge Select Board, acting as the Rent Control Board, heard both petitions and then got down to the busywork of going through the line items of park expenses.
Almost immediately, the board asked the Gennaris about the $24,000 annual expense of payments to the park's previous owner, Eric LeVesque.
"The payments of $2,000 monthly are for mortgage payments on the property," Liza Gennari said.
The park has changed hands twice in the past five years. LeVesque bought the property from the Gennaris in March 2011, but he sued the family in 2015 for nondisclosure of water issues. Under the terms of the settlement the Gennaris repurchased the property from LeVesque, hence the mortgage settlement of $2,000 a week. The Gennaris are now seeking a rent increase in the park to allow for operating expenses and profit.
But the rent control board said it would not allow the mortgage payments to be factored into the operating expenses.
"We didn't do it before, and this is the same scenario," said board Chairman Curt Wilton. "A precedent has been set; nothing has changed except the parties."
This could prove decisive when the board meets again. The Gennaris' request was based on a claimed deficit of $14,500, a minimal profit of $10,000 a year and "other costs" approximating $8,000 a year. By erasing $24,000 from the expenses, the board has left $8,000 as the amount the Gennaris need, providing they can prove those costs.
The tenants were on the losing side of a dispute about the insurance on the property. The insurance expense covers a house, barn and community area on the property.
"The barn houses the water for the park, so the barn is a part of the park," said Liza Gennari. "It's part of the maintenance."
"I agree that the barn does house the water," she said, "But is not something that we have access to, it's not a common area."
The board was not persuaded by Kerswell's argument and the barn's insurance stayed on the expenses.
Both parties also questioned the property valuation. Currently, the valuation on the operating expenses is a quarter of the total land. But the Gennaris argue that the land the trailers actually use is greater than that. The board instructed the Gennaris to return with more accurate acreage.
The board also recommended the family read water meters to determine the actual water use of the park. The park has a long history of leakage and better data could help to estimate the expense, members said.
The board decided to continue the hearing until a later date to be determined.
"When we reconvene, we'll start again with the information we're requesting, then we'll move forward," Wilton said. "Then you can play the same poker game with the expenses."
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