Attorney General Opens Inquiry Into Beechwood Park
Attorney General William Tong has sent a letter to Sun Communities, Inc. management, opening an inquiry into longstanding property management concerns at Beechwood Community mobile manufactured home park on Route 81, according to a release issued by his office. The manufactured home park has been the epicenter of complaints by residents who claim a steady rise in rentals fees and the reduction of services has placed many residents on fixed incomes in a position where they may not be able to afford to stay in their homes.
Residents of Beechwood and several other area home parks owned by Michigan-headquartered Sun Communities have taken the corporation to task since it took over ownership of the park in 2019.
Beechwood residents have brought their concerns to area legislators as well, including State Representative Chris Aniskovich and State Senator Christine Cohen, spurring the formation of a town Fair Rent Commission. Now their efforts have found the ears of the State’s top lawyer, as Tong issued a sternly worded letter to the company and testified to the legislature on behalf of residents at Beechwood and other Sun Communities parks.
According to the letter to Sun Communities Regional Vice President Kathy Ecke, Tong cited state statutes regulating mobile home park management duties, including maintaining common areas in a “clean and safe condition” and maintaining water and sewer lines in “good working order.” In his letter, Tong alleged that 10 properties have complained of septic-related problems and requested that Sun turn over septic tank maintenance records and records of all complaints to his office.
According to Tong’s office, that letter goes further by requesting that Sun delineate how the company meets its obligations to its residents under state law.
Tong also submitted testimony regarding two legislative proposals currently before the General Assembly.
“Residents everywhere—regardless of the type of property—deserve affordable, safe, appropriately maintained housing. I fully support the Housing Committee in their efforts to ensure Connecticut’s mobile home communities remain an affordable option,” Tong stated in that testimony.
Tong described the issue in a statement released last week.
“Over the past year, the Office of the Attorney General has received numerous complaints from Beechwood Community residents in Killingworth who have seen sustained, escalating rent hikes despite deteriorating conditions,” the statement said. “Beechwood residents, like many residents of mobile manufactured home parks, own their homes but pay monthly rent for the lot of land they sit on. That rent covers various common amenities, including property maintenance. Beechwood was acquired by Sun Communities in 2019, one of several real estate investment trusts that have acquired hundreds of mobile home parks across the country. The result has been increased lot rent and decreased responsiveness to tenant needs, according to residents.”
According to his office, Tong visited Beechwood this past November to meet with residents, where dozens voiced complaints regarding community-wide septic problems, among other concerns.
“Beechwood tenants reported that Sun has not kept up with regular septic tank maintenance, and as a result, tenants are experiencing sewage back-ups into their sinks, toilets, and bathtubs. Many of these tenants are elderly and disabled. Some have paid out of pocket to have plumbers address problems resulting from these septic backups. One disabled resident complained of a large beehive in front of her porch. The management company said they did not have money in their budget to remove it. The tenant paid herself to get it removed. Another tenant complained that her stairs lacked rails and were loose. She reported that maintenance agreed they were dangerous, but management has yet to fix them,” the statement alleged.
The Attorney General’s office does not have the authority to implement rental fees or rent caps, but Tong’s office does have jurisdiction over corporations in how they conduct their services and adherence to contracts.
Bill Joyce, a resident at Beechwood Park, said he and the community welcome the inquiry and that long-sought repairs and maintenance are already occurring.
“The community is very happy. They are excited about it and happy about it and feel that is something that should’ve been done,” said Joyce. “Sun...has said they’re going to do this or that, but it takes six months if they get to it at all. As soon as Attorney General Tong and his agency put heat on them, things are getting done and getting done fairly quickly, so far, at least on certain items, not everything. We are very hopeful. However, a lot of residents are.”
Joyce praised Tong’s efforts to advocate on their behalf.
“It’s not just going to be us; other mobile home parks are now on notice, too. If they don’t comply, the AG’s office will be coming down on them. He really takes care of people who need it,” said Joyce.
Despite the recent change in the relationship with the owners, some residents still need to figure out how they will be able to remain at Beechwood, according to Joyce.
“[T]here are still issues. There is a retired school teacher here who can’t afford to stay here now. It’s not healthy, and I worry about her, and it’s all due to these increases in rent by Sun Corporation,” said Joyce. “There are a lot of people here with major issues still. Where’s the dignity? We are hopeful, but we still have a ways to go here.”
Jackie Vece, who is also a resident of Beechwood, said she is thankful that services that had been unattended to in the recent past are now being conducted. However, ultimately the question of rents and any rent cap is still a factor that will have a negative impact on the Beechwood community.
“We’re very pleased that Attorney Tong has taken on our situation here,” said Vece. “Things have gotten done since his office has gotten involved, so his announcement was very uplifting to us. We feel that with Attorney General Tong advocating for us will help us get the things that we need. I’m not hopeful that Attorney Tong will be able to help as far as a rent cap goes. We have discussed that with him, but that is not something his office handles. He is helping us with the lack of services, and that is important. Unfortunately, the whole rent cap bill we had before the legislature’s Housing Committee...did not go so well. They lumped us in with other tenants and landlords. Our situation is totally different, but unfortunately, they did not differentiate between the two, but that’s okay. We learned a lot from it, and we’ll go back next year and try again.”