Easton Mobile Home Park is for sale, and its tenants plan to explore an option this weekend that residents of other parks have taken: Buy the property themselves.
The tenants say that although they worry that the park’s $4.7 million price tag might prove too high to pull off, they are concerned over what might happen if the property, which needs extensive repairs, is sold to another company.
“The biggest fear we have with a new owner is that rents will increase and none of the repairs that need doing will get done,” said Robert Martin, a past president of the Easton Mobile Park Association and current member of the park’s board of directors.
Martin said problems range from roads marred by potholes to old and leaky sewer and water lines. Rents were raised by 33 percent two years ago, but repairs remained undone.
“Anybody that buys this park in as-is condition needs their head examined,” Martin said. “They’re going to have to spend a lot of money to get it up to par.”
Morgan Management LLC, a New York-based company with six parks in Massachusetts, owns and operates the Easton park, which has 110 occupied units. Morgan’s lawyer, Robert Kraus, said the company has not yet received an offer for the property. Neither Kraus nor Morgan Management’s vice president, Kevin Morgan, returned calls seeking their reaction to Martin’s criticism of the park’s condition.
In mobile home parks, tenants own their individual units but rent the underlying land. One option open to park residents under Massachusetts law is to form a cooperative and buy the land themselves when it is being sold. But to do so, they must match whatever offer a prospective buyer has put on the table.
Martin and fellow board members have scheduled a meeting on March 2 with Community Development Institute, an organization that helps tenants throughout New England set up cooperatives and buy their parks. As owners, the residents would use monthly rents to pay off the loan for the purchase and do necessary maintenance.
Andrew Danforth, Community Development Institute’s housing program and financial manager, said he is aware of the conditions the Easton park tenants, as owners, would have to deal with. “It’s a difficult situation there,” he said. “The park needs lots of repairs.”
The Community Development Institute has helped 10 groups in the last 30 months take over ownership of their parks, said Danforth. Last summer, residents in Carver’s Cranberry Village and Pine Tree Village closed a $22 million deal for their parks, and last week, tenants in Plymouth’s West Wood Village bought theirs for $3.8 million.
Danforth’s agency is also working with tenants in Edgeway Mobile Home Park in Middleborough and Twin Coach Estates in Lake-ville, which are both on the market.
Martin said the board will listen to what Danforth has to say Saturday, but he expects that a plan to form a cooperative to buy the park will be a tough sell.
“We’ll see if it’s possible, then we’ll see if the residents want to do it,” Martin said. “Ninety percent of the people in the park, when you try to say to them it would be a co-op run by the residents, go off on a temper tantrum and won’t even listen.”
Danforth said tenants frequently “have wrong assumptions” regarding what it takes to buy their parks. “They think they have to come up with a lot of money,” Danforth said. “We talk to them about how it works.” His organization is partnered with ROC USA, a nonprofit organization that arranges financing for park cooperatives that requires no money down.
Still, board members will take some convincing Saturday. Member Lynn Cleveland said she has been unhappy with Morgan Management’s oversight of the park since the company bought it in 2003 and she worries about what will happen under a new owner. But Cleveland doesn’t believe residents have the ability to purchase the park themselves and oversee repairs.
“To us, this would be something really big to be doing,” Cleveland said. “My personal opinion is there’s so much work to be done in the park that I don’t think we could afford to buy it.”
Easton voters approved a rent-control bylaw more than a year ago, placing mobile park rents and minimum standards of operation under the authority of a town-appointed board. The provision cannot go into effect, however, until the Legislature approves a related home-rule petition, which has yet to happen.
“If we don’t buy the park, we just have to hope rent control would be passed by the time it sells,” Martin said.