LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When Mike Runnells moved to Bullitt County in 2020, it was his refuge from a divided city. The Army veteran had been living in Louisville’s west end, where the highly controversial police shooting death of Breonna Taylor had led to ongoing, nightly protests that sometimes brought crowds of police and protesters past his Portland home. 

What You Need To Know

  •  Residents of Live Oaks in Mt. Washington have seen regular rent increases and ownership changes

  •  With each new owner, new rent and regulations follow

  •  Some residents have rent-to-own agreements with a previous owner, but they aren't being honored

  • The Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey estimates mobile homes make up almost 11% of Kentucky’s housing units

Runnells found the peace he’d been looking for at Live Oaks Manufactured Home Community in Mt. Washington, where his dad loaned him the money to buy his own mobile home. It was quiet at Live Oaks, and he quickly became friends with his neighbors, some of whom were also veterans. 

Aerials of Live Oaks mobile home park in Mt. Washington, Kentucky (Spectrum News 1/Andrew Bennett)

“Mt. Washington, it reminds me of the small town I grew up in Texas,” said Runnells, who grew up in Tomball, Texas, a town of about 12,300 people approximately 30 miles northwest of Houston. 

Live Oaks initially offered Runnells and his neighbors, most of whom were low income, fixed income or fixed-low income, an affordable opportunity for comfort. Owning his trailer, he initially paid just $370 per month. Now, however, he pays $518 per month—a 40% increase in less than three years.

“They just keep upping everything,” Runnells said of the mobile home park’s various owners. “There’s a lot of people who have been here for 30 years that are on Social Security and disability and it’s not right to them.”

Live Oaks has changed hands at least three times in recent years, cycling through Forrest Street Partners, The Firm and Lasso Capital—the current owner. All three are out-of-state investment firms, and Runnells said each change of ownership came with a costly increase in rent.

“I see a lot less money staying in my pocket, that’s for sure,” said Runnells. “I know a lot of people that are just on fixed incomes. I know they’re hurtin’ if I’m hurtin’. I mean basically we’re on paychecks to paychecks just to make ends meet.”

While Runnells admits money is tight, he works a full-time job and says he worries most about the Live Oaks tenants who are elderly or disabled and unable to work.

Another tenant, who rents his home and his lot, said his rent went from $1,000 to  $1,450 per month in a year-and-a-half’s time, a 45% increase. He didn’t want to be identified out of fear of retaliation, so we’re referring to him as “Jim”. 

Jim said he signed a rent-to-own agreement with one of the previous owners, The Firm, and even made a $5,000 down payment on his home. That “agreement”, he said, disappeared when the park sold to Lasso Capital. At that point, Jim said he was told he was “just a renter” and no longer buying his home. 

“I signed a contract to rent-to-own and [this fall] they gave us another lease that said if we didn’t sign it, we had to move,” Jim explained. “It was either sign it or be out in 30 days, and I work from day to day, paycheck to paycheck, and I just don’t have the money to put away after I spent $5,000 down on this.”

Jim said he never received a copy of the signed rent-to-own agreement from The Firm, a story echoed by others in the park who claim they also signed a rent-to-own agreement that is not currently being honored. The Firm did not respond to Spectrum News 1’s request for comment.

The on-site manager of Live Oaks said, “I have no comment for you guys” when Spectrum News 1 approached her about residents’ concerns. She gave us a phone number for someone who she identified as “Heather” and one of the owners. Spectrum News 1’s calls to that person were not returned. 

“I grew up in this community. I lived in Louisville and moved back home and now I kind of regret moving back home,” Jim said.

Manufactured homes, or mobile homes, are an important source of affordable housing in Kentucky. The Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey estimates mobile homes make up almost 11% of Kentucky’s housing units and, according to the Manufactured Housing Institute, 22 million people live in manufactured housing nationwide.

An increasing number of investment firms appear to be buying up mobile home parks in search of passive income, and these firms are clear about what they’re doing. Mobile Home University is a website that claims to be the “number one source to learn mobile home park investing” and says it is run by the fifth largest owners of mobile home parks in the country. They offer an online boot camp that teaches people how to invest in manufactured housing. Their materials for the boot camp describe mobile home parks as “the hottest sector of real estate right now, because of the endless decline in the U.S. economy” and “the only niche of real estate that grows stronger as the economy grows weaker.” 

They even boast about rent hikes saying, “the fact that tenants can’t afford the $5,000 it costs to move a mobile home keeps revenues stable and makes it easy to raise rents without losing any occupancy.”

Mobile Home University did not respond to Spectrum News 1’s request for comment.

Lasso Capital, the current owner of Live Oaks, has a limited online footprint. Not much can be deciphered from their website, which requires an investor login. They identify themselves on LinkedIn as a “NYC based investment company” and “a Top 50 U.S. owner of manufactured housing communities” — claiming to manage over 1,600 lots across 16 communities in the southeast. 

Their online promotional videos show the company owns at least five mobile home parks in Kentucky: Arrowhead Ranch and Green Lake Commons in Campbellsville, Oakview Commons in Danville, Ponderosa Manor in Elizabethtown and Live Oaks in Mt. Washington.


“Right now Kentucky does not have any protections for residents of mobile home parks,” said Adrienne Bush, executive director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky. 

While Bush’s organization does not currently provide rental help in Live Oaks, she explained the people living there, by law, do not have many rights. 

“Whether they are renting the whole mobile home plus the lot that it’s on, or maybe they own the mobile home but they’re renting the lot–there’s nothing in terms of legal protections for these folks,” she said.

Bush recommends tenants in these types of situations reach out to the legal aid covering their area to learn more about their options. There are four civil legal aid programs in Kentucky, providing free legal help to low-income and other vulnerable people. They help with issues related to housing, family, income, food security, safety and health. 

Bush said the Coalition has noticed investment firms buying up mobile home parks across the state, often at great cost to the people living there. 

“I mean, nobody wants out-of-state corporations coming in and, you know, buying up a community. And then, when you are talking about something as basic as your home — that adds another layer of frustration around it,” said Bush. “To go from $1,000 to $1,400 a month — that is a significant jump, especially when you are dealing with low incomes, or fixed incomes or fixed-low incomes.”

Widespread rent increases are not unique to mobile home parks. Bush said they are seeing significant percentage increases in rent across the state, and because of that, non-renewal of leases. But with Kentucky suffering from an affordable housing shortage of about 79,000 units, she said there aren’t many options for people who get priced out of their homes. 

Residents of Live Oaks mobile home park in Mt. Washington, Kentucky say various owners keep changing rent prices and agreement terms. (Spectrum News 1/Andrew Bennett)

“We see a lot of people dealing with housing insecurity. That may look like literal homelessness in communities where there is a homeless shelter. It may look like doubled-up or couch-surfing with friends and family. It may look like sleeping outside in a car for a while,” Bush said. 

That one-misstep-away from homelessness is the harsh reality Runnells, Jim and so many others feel like they’re facing at Live Oaks. The worry that if Live Oaks continues to rapidly change hands, they could soon get priced out of their homes. 

“I’m hoping that maybe they’ll try to come to a reasonable rent for us all,” said Runnells, who despite the rent increases, hopes to live at Live Oaks for at least a few more years.

Jim said he has nowhere else to go. He feels “stuck” — like Live Oaks is his only option. “Leaves a guy wondering where he’s gonna go tomorrow,” said Jim. “I just want to go back to where I was originally at — buyin’ my home. I’m in my late 40s and I can’t start all over again.”