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Florida seniors face eviction over mobile home community assessment dispute

Residents at a 55 and older park in Dade City were hit with an unexpected $3,557 bill with little explanation.
 
West Pasco Judicial Center
West Pasco Judicial Center [ Times ]
Published Nov. 24, 2023|Updated Nov. 24, 2023

The community website urges potential residents to “elevate their life” by joining The Highlands at Scotland Yard, showing a well-manicured, 55 and above gated community featuring two swimming pools, walking trails, a fire pit and a community center nestled next to a lush public golf course just south of Dade City.

But many residents of the mobile home community, who own their homes but pay rent for their lots, aren’t so sure their life has been improved since the community’s new owner, Legacy Communities, arrived. Management sent out notices in August that they owe Legacy an additional $3,557.44 for unspecified “capital improvements.”

The increases at the Dade City community are similar to cost increases mandated by Legacy in other mobile home communities in Florida and Ohio. In Ohio, the concerns about the company’s practices brought a critical letter to Legacy from U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown last December.

“These sudden and drastic rent increases have left residents on fixed incomes scared and without options,” Brown wrote to Legacy CEO Patrick O’Malley. “Residents report that they will not be able to afford rent increases, nor can they sell their homes because prospective buyers are unable or unwilling to pay the high and increasing lot rents that Legacy Communities charges.

“Seniors who have worked hard their whole lives and bought a house believing they had found a safe, stable place to live now face the prospect of losing their home and having nowhere to go.” Brown wrote, noting that residents are reporting “exorbitant rent increases in Legacy Communities properties across the country.”

When the local community members at The Highlands of Scotland Yard sought details of the proposed increase in their rent, the owner didn’t respond and didn’t answer a request for a meeting to avoid legal action. Then the homeowners committee took their fight to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, asking for mediation allowed by law.

Earlier this month, that agency denied the request, saying that the necessary community meeting hadn’t happened, even though the residents had tried.

On Nov. 8, Legacy sent written notices that residents who didn’t pay within five days would face eviction.

Last week, the homeowners facing the new assessment, took their concerns to court.

The complaint filed on Nov. 17 states that the 133 units notified of the increases, many of which are occupied by residents on fixed incomes, face a 27% increase in their monthly rent. These residents have a prospectus, a formal agreement with the park regulating how future increases would work, which, the lawsuit states, wasn’t followed.

The primary allowable reason for an increase would be if there were “pass-through charges” related to mandated park improvements such as a new utility hookup charge.

The lawsuit also alleges that no such mandated new services have been added at the park since Legacy purchased it. Property records show that CH REALTY IX-LEGACY MHC TAMPA HIGHLANDS LP purchased the park for $19.4 million in February 2022.

The legal complaint seeks relief from the increasing rent saying the cost is “unreasonable and excessive in comparison with fair market value” and that no cost increases were mandated because of any improvements made by any government service.

Another concern in the legal case is that while 133 units in the community are bearing the costs that Legacy is charging, the increase is not being passed along to the remaining 116 unit owners who have a different rental agreement. The suit seeks to fix that “unlawful legal disparity” by having any future increase shared by all residents.

Alleging that Legacy violated the law when it would not meet with the homeowners’ representatives, the legal complaint requests the judge grant an injunction to prevent Legacy from imposing the increase and following through with the threat of eviction.

Molly Boyle, a Legacy spokesperson, told the Tampa Bay Times that the company has not yet been served with the legal complaint and therefore, cannot comment at this time.

In addition to the controversies over rent increases in communities owned by or managed by Legacy Communities in Ohio, there have been other cases closer to home. Earlier this year, residents in the Sunshine Mobile Home Park in St. Petersburg and Ranchero Village in Largo raised questions about high rent increases, according to media reports.