BUFFALO, N.Y. — Residents of the Akron Mobile Home Park were unexpectedly thrust into the national spotlight as they fought back against what lawmakers said is becoming a prevalent problem across the state and country.
"It was the most scariest thing I've ever done to put it bluntly," Tenants Association President Maribeth Sheedy said.
In 2017, Florida-based private equity firm Sunrise Capital Investors bought the community and attempted to raise the rent.
"The tenants, the individuals who own the homes, pay $50, $60, upwards of $100,000 for the home but they don't own the land upon which it sits. So they rent that," Assemblywoman Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, said.
Residents said the increases would've ultimately doubled their rent, so they staged a first-of-its-kind strike to fight back. That effort is ongoing.
"We as residents hold our money in an escrow account," Sheedy said. "The rent is paid to the association every month and we have not paid SCI any money due to the fact that they refuse to negotiate with us."
Wallace said large firms continue to try to prey on homeowners in mobile home communities. This year, the state Legislature passed new regulations to curb it.
"The owner of the mobile home community or the manufactured park will not be allowed to increase rent above 3 percent per year," she said.
The law allows park owners to petition for larger increases if the community needs capital improvements. It also allows residents to challenge those increases, requires companies to give two years notice if it plans to close the park, and gives the community the first opportunity to buy the property if it goes on the market.
"The idea of mobile home is somewhat of a misnomer because they really aren't mobile," Wallace said. "They're homes. They're people's homes. They're fixed on the land and to move them could potentially compromise the integrity of the house."
The Akron residents are currently in negotiation to form a co-op and buy their park.
"We want to ensure that going forward people are going to be comfortable knowing the rent's not going up, the park will be taken care of and we can live in peace," Sheedy said.
She said the new law is a game changer for her community but it also helps ensure that the nearly 1,900 parks across the state won't have to go through the same experience.