I live in Windsor Mobile Country Club, a 336 unit low-income senior mobile home park located in Windsor, California. In May of this year, with two days’ notice, we were informed the park was being sold to Resident Owned Parks, a supposed non-profit corporation headed by Maurice Priest. We were given two days’ notice of a meeting ROP was calling with the residents, to be held on Memorial Day, 2007. Everyone was in shock as the park had been owned by the same person for over 30 years, and we had always understood that residents would have first right of refusal if he ever sold.
There were more surprises to come, as we soon learned. Our Board had neglected to renew our first right of refusal in several years. Although we are under a rent control ordinance, ROP believes that exceptions are apparently made for non-profits. Our rents were going to increase 45% and 72%, way above the CPI for this year of 3.4%. Our Town Council and the County of Sonoma were both in favor of the sale, as ROP indicated they had financial assistance all set up for those who needed it, and after 30 years they would deed the property to us for $1.00.
First of all, most of us cannot afford the increase, and secondly, not many of us will be around in 30 years when ROP says they will turn the park over to a resident non-profit. Our ordinance requires a “meet and confer” to exchange pertinent documents, followed by arbitration in a court-like setting if the noticed rent increase exceeds 300% of the CPI, which this did.
At meet and confer, no documents were provided by ROP, and Maurice Priest indicated he had no intention of submitting them for our perusal. Several arbitration hearings were held, spanning several months. ROP continued to refuse to give us necessary documents, such as the sale agreement, appraisal, management contract (his wife runs the management company without a contract), etc. On
November 27th the decision from the arbitrator allowed NO rent increases at this time. ROP had not followed the ordinance dictates and since there was no appraisal submitted, the arbitrator had no factual information that supported the huge rent increases.
We are a small group in this large park fighting this purchase. Some people have not responded to us due to coercion and intimidation on the part of Mr. Priest. At the very outset, he required all residents to sign a document supporting ROP’s purchase of the park. If the resident chose not to sign, they were told they would not receive any financial assistance. Approximately 90% of the park did sign this document and ROP therefore claims to have the support of 90% of the residents. This form also included a statement that they agreed with the rent increases.
We feel we have been misled and lied to from the very beginning. As it turns out, there is not nearly enough financial assistance for the residents, although they are still being given erroneous figures as to what they will receive. And now we’re told the financial assistance will come out of our rent checks, including those who will receive minimal assistance.
It is our belief that ROP is offering an inflated price for this park, causing all of us to bear the burden of ROP’s huge mortgage. Not only do we pay for the park, we are also paying all closing costs, brokers fees, taxes etc. Where else can you buy a place like this without putting one cent into it? ROP apparently likes to target low-income senior communities like ours where a lot of the residents are easily intimidated. Beware of this organization!
They have now decided to repeat the legal process of arbitration and are starting all over again. Since Mr. Priest is an attorney, he does not bear the expenses it has been necessary for us to expend. He has said he will now comply with the requirements
of the ordinance (other than the increase). We are attempting to get support wherever we can.
In closing, you might enjoy this hypothetical ad one of our residents wrote, satirizing what ROP and Mr. Priest are doing:
ATTENTION BUSINESSMEN & NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS
* We will help you acquire a $23,000,000 property for nothing and allow you to raise the rent 72%.
* We will also allow you to pay yourself $120,000 per year to oversee your investment.
* We will make it possible for you to borrow $1,500,000 from the bank for agreeing to this sale, which you do not have to pay back as we will allow you to make your tenants pay for it by including these payments in a rent increase.
* We will allow you to have all of the tenants pay into a rental assistance fund and you will be the one, the only one to determine to whom these monies are dispensed.
* We will also allow you to increase their rents each year by 3%.
* You will not have to put up any money yourself.
* We will allow you to totally ignore our Low Income Ordinance.
* THAT’S RIGHT, ALL OF THESE BENEFITS CAN BE YOURS FOR ZERO DOLLARS DOWN.
This may sound ridiculous, but this is exactly what is happening.
Article written by Donna Helwig, resident of Windsor Mobile Country Club, Windsor, California
It is our goal to inform all mobilehome owners about issues that effect them. We have been writing about ROP, Inc. (Resident Owned Parks) since our September 2006 newsletter where we discussed the attempted purchase of Westwind MHP by ROP, Inc.
ROP, Inc purchased their first park, Niles East, in 2003. The head of ROP, Inc, Mr. Maurice Priest, has been a lobbyist for GSMOL over the last 26 years. He is also the corporate council of GSMOL and sits at GSMOL board meetings.
When you go to the ROP, Inc. website, the first thing you will see is: The only park purchase organization endorsed by Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League. In fact past president Steve Gullage has recently been added to their board of directors.
This is not our first article concerning the proposed purchase of a mobilehome park by ROP, Inc. and it probably won’t be the last.
If you have been getting THE VOICE, you know there are several other organizations helping residents purchase their parks—among them David Loop and Deane Sargent. Also the Millenium Group.
We ask these simple questions? How can advocate (Maurice Priest) be a ‘park owner?’ Isn’t this a conflict of interest? And why are so many residents (Clear Lake, Grass Valley, Los Osos, Windsor) speaking out against the purchase of their park by ROP? Shouldn’t the leadership of GSMOL investigate this issue? What does GSMOL get out of this relationship? Why doesn’t GSMOL support other park purchase groups?