ATTLEBORO — A bill to establish a rent control board for mobile home parks in the city is slowly making its way through the state Legislature.
State Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said he expects the bill, which was filed just as the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, to be approved in an “informal session” before the end of the year.
Informal sessions are those in which routine, non-controversial measures are approved.
Normally it would have gone through faster, but the day after the bill was filed the Statehouse shut down and nothing moved for months, Hawkins said.
“I think we’re good,” he said Friday, noting that a number of informal sessions are slated prior to the end of the year. “We lost a lot of time with the stay-at-home orders.”
He said the bill had to work its way through five committees before making its way to the floor for a vote.
The city council and Mayor Paul Heroux approved the measure in March and forwarded it to Hawkins to present to the Legislature.
The effort began after Sandcastle Estates, a 172-unit mobile home park in South Attleboro, was purchased by Legacy Communities in 2019 and some residents, many of whom are retired and on fixed incomes, got hit with rent increases as high as 47 percent.
While some have described the new board as a rent control board, it’s more of a rent stabilization board, Hawkins said.
Landlords who propose rent increases will have to justify them for reasons of increased costs, he said.
Hawkins’ director of legislation, Tara Major, said the office has pushed hard to get the measure through.
“Rep. Hawkins understands the need to get this finalized as he knows all too well the uncertainty felt by tenants, especially during times like these where the pandemic creates an atmosphere of economic doubt,” she said in an emailed statement to The Sun Chronicle.
Whenever the Legislature approves the board, it will not be in time for rent increases at Sandcastle Estates, nor is it likely to be in time to consider increases imposed by the new owner of Eastlande Park in South Attleboro, which is now known as Cedarbrook Village.
Eastlande was bought in March of this year and is another of a number of recent park purchases in The Sun Chronicle area.
In July the residents of Brookside Village and Sunset Acres in Plainville, which would not be affected by a board in Attleboro, bought the parks in which they live to better control their rents.
Greenwich Bay Holdings IV LLC bought Eastlande, a 96-unit property, for $1,883,700, about $80,000 under its current assessed value for tax purposes.
By contrast, Legacy Communities bought Sandcastle Estates on Mendon Road for $13.35 million in January of 2019, or about $10 million over the park’s tax assessed value of $3.1 million.
Cedarbrook covers about nine acres next to the MBTA commuter rail line, just off Route 1A in South Attleboro at the Pawtucket line.
Many residents are retired and on fixed incomes, and are concerned about a recent announcement that the $370 rent would be raised by $50 to $420, a 13.5 percent hike, said a resident who declined to be named. The new rent would take effect on Dec. 1.
He argued that a rent increase should not be imposed until improvements are made, perhaps in the spring when much smaller rent increases are typically announced.
He called the rent increase “outrageous” especially during a pandemic where some people have lost jobs.
But a document signed by one of the new owners, Richard Santis of Greenwich Bay, said a rent increase is needed to pay for badly needed improvements.
“In addition to the substantial acquisition cost we paid for the property, making the necessary capital improvements and correcting the deferred maintenance at the property obviously comes at a significant cost,” Santis said. “While our goal is to keep Cedarbrook Village affordable to all residents, we do have to increase the monthly rental fee at this time to bring it in line with market rates.”
He said the new rate of $420 per month “will continue to be the lowest” charged in area mobile home parks.
“Going forward it is our hope to have only modest annual increases,” Santis said.