Sunday, July 10, 2016

St. Paul-Based Non-Profit Public Interest Lawyers Lead Battle Alleging Sneaky Landlord Sold Mobile Home Park Out From Under Lot-Leasing (& Now-Eviction-Facing) Homeowners Without First Giving Them Opportunity To Match Buyer-Developer's Offer As Required Under State Law

In St. Anthony, Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio reports:
  • Over the course of a month, the residents of the Lowry Grove mobile home park have gone from thinking they'd lost their homes, to thinking they'd saved them, to thinking they'd lost them again. Now, the future of their homes is in the hands of the court.

    Lowry Grove, which is located across the street from northeast Minneapolis in St. Anthony, Minn., has almost 100 mobile homes parked on its 15 acres. When residents received a letter in April, saying the land beneath their homes would be sold to a developer, many thought that was it: Time to pack up. Move on. Find a new park, or a family member to crash with.

    But some residents refused to accept that — and they tried to use a little piece of state law to keep the park open. A Minnesota statute says residents have the right to match a buyer's offer, if the buyer intends to close the park. So: If they could raise the funds, they would have the chance to buy the park themselves and keep Lowry Grove in operation.

    It's never been done before in Minnesota, and it was daunting: The residents would need to come up with $6 million of financing in just 45 days.

    But in an 11th-hour move, the residents thought they just might have pulled it off: On the afternoon of Day 44, Aeon, an affordable-housing nonprofit, submitted a purchase agreement to the park's owner on behalf of the residents.

    For Lowry Grove homeowners like Antonia Alvarez, who had helped to organize the park-saving effort, it seemed like a reprieve. Aeon planned to purchase the park and keep it open.

    Alvarez and her neighbors gathered on her porch that Friday afternoon to hug and share the news and let out a breath they'd been holding all spring. They planned to meet again that Monday evening to really celebrate — Monday was also Alvarez's 46th birthday.

    But by 11 on Monday morning, the park's owners had rejected Aeon's offer and sold the land to Continental Property Group, based in Wayzata. Traci Tomas, the president of Continental, signed the closing documents to purchase Lowry Grove.

    Tomas had heard about the last-minute effort for the residents to buy the park, she said, and her legal team advised her to move forward. "In my mind, I had an agreement, and I needed to close today — and I closed today," Tomas said that afternoon.

    But Aeon and some of Lowry Grove's residents are now questioning the legality of that sale.

    "The residents and [Aeon's] legal advisors believe that what the seller and buyer of Lowry Grove did to close on the sale was illegal," said Alan Arthur, Aeon's executive director.

    Phil Johnson, the previous managing partner of the park, was unavailable for comment.

    After purchasing the park, Continental sent an official park closure notice, required by the state, to residents. It gives residents nine months to vacate. They will need to move their homes to new parks, or, in the case of structures that are too old to move, leave them behind entirely to be demolished.

    Alvarez and many other Lowry Grove residents still aren't ready to accept that fate.

    [Last] week, Aeon's legal team and the nonprofit Housing Justice Center(1) filed a lawsuit against the park's original owners, Lowry Grove Partnership, LLP, and The Village, the company Continental established to redevelop the park.

    The suit claims that the original owners had a legal responsibility to accept Aeon's offer, and that the park closure notice that Continental sent out was invalid.

    The Lowry Grove struggle is representative of a larger issue statewide, as mobile home parks close, taking affordable housing stock with them. According to a report from the Metropolitan Council, no new parks have been built in the state since 1991, and ten have closed.
For more, see Future uncertain, residents file lawsuit to keep mobile home park open.

In a related story, see One resident's $6 million, Hail Mary plan to save her mobile home park.
(1) The Housing Justice Center (formerly known as the Housing Preservation Project) is a nonprofit public interest advocacy and legal organization whose primary mission is to preserve and expand affordable housing for low income individuals and families.

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