Friday, May 19, 2017

State Appeals Court Refuses To Undo Developer's Purchase Of Mobile Home Park Sold Out From Under Soon-To-Be-Booted, Lot-Leasing Homeowners, But Leaves Door Open For Other Forms Of Relief If Violation Of Right Of First Refusal Under State Law Can Be Proven

In St. Anthony, Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports:
  • The court battle is likely to continue for Lowry Grove residents fighting to keep their mobile home park open.

    The Minnesota Court of Appeals said in a ruling issued Monday [May 8] that the sale of their St. Anthony park cannot be undone, though it left the door open for other forms of relief.

    A three-judge appellate panel upheld the $6 million sale of the park to The Village, an affiliate of Wayzata-based Continental Property Group. But the unanimous opinion reversed an earlier decision by the district court judge as to what forms of relief may be available to residents if they go on to prove that the transaction violated state law governing the sale of mobile home parks.

    The appellate court said the residents can ask Hennepin County District Judge Joseph R. Klein for non-monetary relief, such as court-ordered relocation costs, educational benefits for children displaced from schools, transportation benefits or even an injunction affecting the park’s planned closure. Residents can also still seek monetary damages.

    “It’s a partial win, but it’s not necessarily a partial win that will keep the park open,” said Jack Cann, an attorney for the Lowry Grove Residents Association.(1) “Still, the Court of Appeals’ decision makes it so it’s going to cost them.”

    The residents, working with Aeon, an affordable housing nonprofit, allege in their lawsuit that the sale of the land to The Village broke state law.

    Traci Tomas, vice president of The Village, has said that the deal complied with the law. She also described Monday’s ruling as “a win.”

    “I am confident the district court will determine that … there was nothing illegal about the sale of Lowry Grove,” Tomas said in a statement. An attorney for The Village said residents have signed an agreement that they will leave the park by the end of June.

    “The Village owns the property and that is not going to change,” said attorney William Skolnick, who represents The Village. “In terms of the Lowry Grove mobile home park, that is not going to exist after June 30.”

    The dispute traces back to the June 2016 sale of Lowry Grove to a development company. State law gives manufactured-home owners the right of first refusal to buy the land.

    Last year, Lowry Grove residents worked with Aeon to match The Village’s $6 million offer. The previous owners of the park, Lowry Grove Partnership, turned down Aeon’s offer, saying it didn’t meet the state statute’s requirements. The Lowry Grove owners then sold to The Village, which prompted the lawsuit.

    If the suit isn’t resolved in the coming months, it is expected to go to trial by the end of the year.

    At a neighborhood meeting Monday night, homeowners said they now plan to take their grievances to City Hall.

    About half the nearly 100 homeowners in Lowry Grove have already left. Those remaining say they have no place else to go.

    “I’m very frustrated,” said Antonia Alvarez, a Lowry Grove resident who has organized her neighbors against the redevelopment. “Lowry Grove is home. We want to keep it open.”
Source: Court reopens relief options for St. Anthony mobile home park residents (Lowry Grove residents, and the nonprofit Aeon, can still pursue other forms of relief).

For the court ruling, see Aeon v. Lowry Grove Partnership, LLP, A16-1755 (Minn. App. May 8, 2017).
(1) Representing the lot-leasing mobile home owners is the Housing Justice Center (HJC, formerly known as the Housing Preservation Project, or HPP), a St. Paul, Minnesota-based nonprofit public interest advocacy and legal organization whose primary mission is to preserve and expand affordable housing for low income individuals and families.