ATTLEBORO — The New Jersey company that bought Sandcastle Estates, a 172-unit senior citizen mobile home park in South Attleboro, and then raised the rent of some residents, argued in a letter to the city council that it only did what state law requires.
The letter, signed by Legacy Communities president and chief executive officer Patrick F. O’Malley, came after a push from residents and City Councilor Sara Lynn Reynolds to establish a rent control board. The initiative was the result of a 19 percent rent hike charged to some, but not all, residents.
Rents for the lots on which the resident-owned homes sit went from $442 to $526 a month, one resident claimed.
Reynolds represents Ward I, where five of the city’s eight mobile home parks are located. Sandcastle is on Mendon Road.
She said she made the move after about 85 percent of Sandcastle residents signed a petition backing a rent control board.
“The residents are all very concerned,” Reynolds told the council last month. “I’d like to see us get something in place.”
But O’Malley said in a three-and-half-page, single-spaced letter that state law required Legacy to increase the rents of those who had “sweetheart” deals, so all occupants of the park are treated equally.
The increase brought all residents whose leases expired to the same rent level others were paying, he said.
“Massachusetts requires that similarly situated residents, with similar spaces within a mobile home community, that receive the same services, be charged the same rent,” O’Malley said. “This is to discourage favoritism/discrimination between tenants. I think you’ll find that those that are behind the push for rent control are the same folks that lost their ‘sweetheart’ rent deals at Sandcastle as a result of us simply following MA mobile home law.”
He said neither residents nor the city would benefit from a rent control board and that Legacy intends to meet with the Home Owners Association and negotiate a deal to give all residents “peace of mind.”
“There is no need for rent control in a situation where the ownership of Sandcastle is willing to work with the residents on a compromise that works for all,” O’Malley said.
He said a big part of resident concern is the claim that Legacy intends to raise rents 8 percent a year, every year.
A clause in homeowner leases caps rent increases at 8 percent a year, but does not mean that rent increases will be 8 percent a year, he said.
“Our ‘not to exceed’ 8 percent per annum rent increase clause is there simply to make sure we can cover cost of living increases during times of hyper inflation,” he said. “We are not going to raise rents 8 percent year after year at Sandcastle and in our pending discussions with the resident HOA we will make that clear and attempt to incorporate that resident benefit into an agreement.”
Legacy bought Sandcastle in January for $13.35 million from Shannon Family Properties out of Florida. At the time of the sale, the park was assessed for tax purposes at $3.1 million.
Many residents are retired and on fixed incomes.
In addition, O’Malley argued that rent limitations could cause the park to fall into disrepair and lose value, which means the city would lose tax money.
Meanwhile, former city councilor and elder advocate Walter Thibodeau took a different view in a Sun Chronicle letter to the editor.
He implied Legacy misinterpreted the law.
“It appears that Legacy believes that ... our current state law allows them to treat non-leased residents, sometimes called tenants-at-will, as ‘new residents’ and immediately charge them higher rent,” he wrote.
Citing an American Association of Retired Persons bulletin, he argued that elders are at risk of exploitation from big companies, saying they are often considered “an easy target.”
He asked city residents to consider supporting the rent control proposal if a public hearing on the establishment of a board is scheduled in the future.
O’Malley’s letter was referred to the ordinance committee as was Reynolds’ request.