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Randy and Barb from Pennsylvania

Barb and I have lived within 25 miles of Bath, Pennsylvania our entire lives. When we bought the manufactured home in July, four years ago, ELS had just become the owner of the land. ELS was not the land owner at that time. I’m the President and Barb is Treasurer of GVHA, our homeowners’ association. We believe in fairness and equality for everyone. That is what motivates us to volunteer more than full time to the association.

Barb has been on disability since the mid 1990’s; it would be disastrous if there were cuts to her SSD check or Medicare. I took early retirement so I could attend to her health problems. If Social Security or Medicare were cut, we’d have to choose between food and medical needs in order to survive: our budget is that tight right now. Our medical costs, even after Medicare and other insurance coverage, is 20 to 25 percent of our income.

Given our fixed income and Barb’s health issues, we felt that the affordability and accessibility offered in manufactured home living suited us well. Of late, we’ve grown disillusioned given how hard it is to work with management and ELS.

Our homeowners association used to have a positive and productive working relationship with management for activity planning and complaint resolution. Then, a resident discussed an issue she was having with management – a $1,200 water bill – at an association meeting. She was being taken to court and asked that some people come to support her. Four of us, my wife and I included, went with her. In retaliation, management had their attorney send us a letter saying that we were in violation of the guidelines for living in our community because we passed out flyers. We’ve seen these letters used as an eviction threat.Management stated that we could not continue to have a working relationship if we allowed residents to discuss issues they are having with management. There is no way that I would allow management to dictate who may have the floor or what we can say at our meetings. Ever since that happened, management has refused to meet with the executive board of the homeowners association.

Management refused any feasible way, like posting notices at the mail station or passing out flyers door to door, to communicate with residents. How were we supposed to function as a homeowners association?

Management being impossible to work with is just the tip of the iceberg. Maintenance has gone downhill since ELS purchased Greenbriar Village in October 2011. It is impossible to get someone from upper management, beyond our park manager, to respond to us at all.

ELS has made it extremely difficult for residents to sell their homes. We are paying as much as $586 a month for lot rent and we pay for water, garbage and sewage as well. They have stolen the equity from our homes. There are people living on $1,100 a month who bought in good faith. More than one half of their income goes for lot rental and housing expenses. That’s unsustainable.

When ELS takes homes because the owners can’t afford the increased lot rent, and are unable to sell their homes because of the high lot rents, ELS takes the homes. They either sell the home and pocket the proceeds or they rent them out. According to the company guidelines, a homeowner is not allowed to rent his or her home. Why is it all right for ELS to rent their homes and not us? (This provides the opportunity for ELS to raise rents beyond the fair lot rental value.)

ELS now has the license and the incentive to take our homes. Is that their strategy, to kick out homeowners and replace us with renters?

We have to take a stand. What are they going to do? Take our worthless houses?


Carla from Virginia

I worked in commercial real estate for over thirty years. I sold my condo in Manassas, Virginia because I needed a more accessible place to live due to mobility issues. I felt that living in a manufactured home on one floor was a wonderful solution.

I’ll be 65 in six years. I’ll no longer receive the job-based disability that I get along with Social Security Disability (SSDI). My monthly take home will be cut in half. Right now, my lot rent is one half of my Social Security check. I’m not sure how I will pay for medication, lot rental, utilities, and food and other necessities, but it’ll take a lot of sacrifice and creativity.

When I chose Meadows of Chantilly, I thought I had found my solution. I love my house and my garden. However, I’ve grown more and more concerned about how ELS is managing our community whose population includes senior citizens, people with disabilities, and veterans, many of whom are on fixed incomes for whom this community is no longer affordable. There are no rent controls so the lot rents are raised and if people can’t pay, they are told either remove your home from the property or the house is taken by ELS. It is unconscionable that they charge $945 a month for a piece of dirt that is 30 by 60 feet, not including the driveway.

ELS’s management style is rooted in intimidation, harassment, and threats. They send notices with great frequency for everything: fix this, fix that, you need a new roof, replace your shingles, etc. the list is as endless as the letters. They drive around the development looking for things so they can harass homeowners. There are clauses in our leases that violate Virginia law. They assess fines when people don’t fix what they are told to fix. The fines are illegal but so many residents, particularly the elderly and undocumented immigrants, are afraid to fight. If rent is not paid on time the first letter threatens eviction: a violation of law.

People in the park have turned over their house titles for free. A lot of these homeowners were so intimidated and overwhelmed, that they felt their only choice was to simply walk away from their investment. The goal seems to be to get rid of homeowners.

Why? ELS figured out, and I hate to think this is what ELS originally set out to do, there is more money in renting both lot and house than lot alone. Originally, renting was not allowed. Currently there are 50 homes in our community of 500 lots rented by ELS.Even with those issues, I feel it’s very important to invest in my neighbors and my community overall. My mother taught me to center my own personal values on our Christian faith, and that I strive to live my life as an example to God. I think ELS as a company can learn quite a bit from those values.

Had I known more about ELS before I moved in, I would not have purchased a home in this community.

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Albert from Delaware

I’m 78 years old. I served in the U.S. Army for five years, am married to Grace with whom I had six children, worked as an electrical contractor in New York State, and moved to Camelot Meadows in 1999. I collect an annuity of $8,767 annually and receive $20,446 each year in Social Security payments. Grace gets $8,926 from Social Security making our yearly income around $35,000. We really liked the area and Camelot Meadows’ affordability was one of the reasons we moved here. Our monthly lot payment was $250 which included water. It has more than doubled to $591, and no longer includes water.

We have beautiful trees in Camelot Meadow planted by ELS. The problem is that ELS doesn’t maintain the very trees they planted. Homeowners, like me, are being forced to take care of their trees.

In Delaware that is against the law. Community owners are required to maintain, care for and remove, if necessary, trees on any lot, including common areas, if the tree is at least 25 feet in height, or has a main stem/trunk larger than six inches in diameter.

I had asked ELS to trim some of their trees that had weakened limbs around our property. ELS refused. One day a large branch came down and hit my car causing $1,800 in damages to a door, a mirror, and the hood. When I called the community manager about what happened, the manager said that it was an “Act of God,” but that they would be willing to pay my $200 deductible if I agreed not to sue them.

The way ELS operates is unbelievable to me. I’m paying more in rent every year, and getting less for it. And, they still don’t take care of the trees as they are legally required to do.


Robert from Florida

My name is Robert Black. I was raised in Nebraska and Minnesota. I visited friends in Hacienda Village over several winters and after having a stroke, I realized I would have problems navigating the steps in my home up north so I came to New Port Richey to live year round.

I retired from GE in 2008 with a pension to help me out, but if not for Social Security, I would not be able to live here. I have paid into Social Security since I was 16 years old; it is an earned benefit, not an entitlement. If  Social Security and Medicare were reduced, my problems would multiply.

I come from a small town community and was raised to believe in honesty, working for what you get, the golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated, and respect. In my adult years, I dedicated myself to many civic concerns including becoming involved in housing issues that affected low income and minority people.

Here at Hacienda Village housing is still a concern, but it is now affecting me. We have gone nearly a year without a full time manager and have a new regional manager as well. Our community is advertised as having gates and yet they are always open.

One of the issues we face at Hacienda Village occurs when a homeowner passes. Oftentimes, their sons or daughters have no interest in keeping the home and sell it directly to ELS. ELS then turns around and rents the home. The problem is that homeowners have to follow rules on upkeep while ELS is derelict in keeping their rentals clean and in good repair. This double standard has a negative effect on homeowners and the community at large.

These are our homes. I want to be proud of where I live. Hacienda Village used to be a premiere community, but not now.

I wish ELS would live up to its mission statement that reads, “Our mission is to operate high quality site-set housing communities responsibly and ethically. To share an absolute passion for excellence and resident satisfaction at every level. To empower every employee to take initiative and be a creative agent of change. To set and meet aggressive goals that benefit our residents, employees and shareholders.”


Lilly Litsky from Santa Cruz

As told by her daughter Barbara…

My parents bought their home for $60,000 and moved into the De Anza community to live out their retirement. They were really pleased at first with their choice…they loved their neighbors, and the equity in their home actually increased in the first two years.

After my father passed away, things began to unravel. ELS began to raise the rents over and over again. It was becoming next to impossible to continue to live there. She was relying on Social Security and a small amount of retirement savings.

Two years after my father passed away, my mom had a fall that resulted in very significant mobility issues. She continued to live in De Anza Santa Cruz for one year, but since Medicare didn’t cover her home care that she now required, her retirement savings disappeared.

My mom’s only option was to sell her home. She put it on the market. Home seekers were unwilling to purchase her home, no matter how low she went because of the ever increasing rents that De Anza was charging. I didn’t want to inherit the property for that same reason. My mom was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

My mother fell behind on her rent. De Anza threatened to sue if she didn’t sign the home over to ELS. She was forced to walk away with only a box of chocolates offered by an ELS office worker.


Zell’s Equity LifeStyle faces protest at annual meeting

From Crain’s

Best known as the Grave Dancer, Sam Zell was accused Tuesday of being something else: a grandma gouger.

A gaggle of about 20 protestors gathered outside the West Loop building housing the headquarters of Equity LifeStyle Properties, the nation’s largest mobile-home park owner, led by the billionaire financier.

With the company’s annual meeting going on inside, the group urged ELS executives and directors —including Mr. Zell, the chairman — to stop “unreasonable rent increases” that they say have left residents of ELS-owned housing communities — many of whom are retirees — with nothing.

“(The demonstration) is the first step we see in a campaign to help the directors of ELS understand that there are other ways to do business than gouging grandma,” said Ishbel Dickens, executive director of Seattle-based Manufactured Home Owners Association of America, which organized the demonstration with Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Community Change. “We hope to start a dialogue.”

As of Dec. 31, ELS owned or had an ownership interest in 381 properties in 32 states — including four in Illinois — the majority of which are in retirement-friendly locations like Florida, California and Arizona, according to the company’s annual report. The portfolio includes more than 140,000 lots that are leased to tenants who live there in factory-built homes, cabins and RVs.

The protesters argue that Equity LifeStyle has fought rent-control ordinances in some communities it owns, driving up their housing costs and depressing the value of their homes.

Bob Lamonica, a 61-year-old resident of an Equity LifeStyle park in Santa Cruz, Calif., said that shortly after he and his wife moved into the community in 2002, the company sued the city, challenging its rent-control ordinance. Ultimately the city decided to avoid a lengthy court battle, a move that “threw 230 families under the bus,” according to Mr. Lamonica. As a result, he said he and his wife were forced into a non-transferable 34-year lease that, despite keeping rent for the lot at an affordable level, essentially trapped them in their home and made it all but impossible to sell.

“They win by overburdening the communities with endless litigation,” he said, adding that he and his wife have put about $200,000 into their home. “People walk away — people who have invested $200,000 to $300,000 walk away for $1 because their rents get jacked up three, four, five times what they were under rent control” and they can no longer afford to live there.

When that happens, the company often converts the homes to vacation rentals, which further devalues surrounding homes in the communities, Ms. Dickens said.

Yet Equity LifeStyle’s performance hasn’t disappointed investors, who have seen the value of their shares rise nearly 20 percent over the past year, vs. a 1.8 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Security guards at 2 North Riverside Plaza, where the real estate investment trust is based and held its annual shareholders meeting Tuesday, did not allow a reporter past the front desk.

An Equity LifeStyle spokeswoman did not return messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. Zell, who founded Equity LifeStyle but wasn’t at the annual meeting, declines to comment.

Most people pick up and move if they think they are being overcharged by their landlord. But Mr. Lamonica said moving the resident-owned homes off Equity LifeStyle lots is so difficult that many residents feel stuck.

“There’s a misnomer about calling these things mobile homes,” he said. “They’re not going anywhere.”