A lively debate, where mobile home rentals lead to fair rental approval in Killingworth

KILLINGWORTH Residents voted Wednesday by a margin of 91-25 to approve the creation of the Killingworth Fair Rent Commission after a 45-minute discussion about how much force the commission should set rental rates and their impact on the city’s legal costs.

The push to form a committee came largely from residents of the Beechwood Mobile Home Community in Killingworth. Last month, residents held a press conference with state and local officials in which they talked about recent rent increases and ongoing maintenance issues — including sanitation issues and the need to retain walls on the property. Residents confirm that rents — which have gone up $60 to $481 over the past five years — began increasing at a higher rate when the Sun Corporation acquired the park in 2019.

Killingworth First Selectman Nancy Gorsky told Beachwood residents at the time that she was looking into forming the Fair Rent Commission — a board of volunteers with the power to hear complaints about the cost of rent and deferred maintenance, hold hearings and conduct studies and investigations.

But not everyone was ready for this idea.

While most of the city meeting attendees said they were in favor of helping Beachwood residents, some questioned whether this committee would actually provide relief from the rent increase residents were looking for.

“The rent for the Beechwood plot … is not in line with similar developments in similar communities,” said township resident Laura Lefko and chairperson of the Killingworth Republican City Commission. “In my opinion… this won’t help you in the long run.”

Killingworth residents discussed creating the Fair Rent Commission Wednesday night (CT Examiner)

Other townspeople said they were concerned about the town’s legal fees increase. Several smaller landlords also said they were concerned that the commission would give other people the right to decide what they should or should not pay for rents.

“I get Sun Communities. There are a lot of private rents there too,” said Walter Adamitz, a landlord in Killingworth. “Now the city will tell me what I can and can’t charge in rent. I don’t think it’s fair.”

According to Connecticut law, the Fair Rent Commission can limit rents if it finds the rent to be “harsh and unreasonable.” It can also suspend a tenant’s rent if the landlord does not comply with health and safety rules, and can order the landlord not to retaliate against a tenant who has lodged a complaint with the committee.

Under state law, in determining whether a rent is appropriate, the commission must consider factors such as rent costs in the area, the health conditions of the rent, the “amount and frequency” of rent increases, the services provided and whether rent increases will be used to improve the properties.

Beachwood residents acknowledged that the Fair Rent Commission was a “first step” as they worked toward other ways to control rent – such as a state law that would cap annual rent increases at 3 percent.

“This is just the beginning,” said a Beechwood resident, Stephanie. “We are all older. We live on a fixed income. We are not wealthy. And if we have a fair rental commission here, that’s a start.”

“[The Fair Rent Commission] We’re not here alone. Until very recently, we felt like we were right there,” said Kathleen Amoyah, a Beachwood resident. “Everyone needs a piece of strength, and if you don’t have Anything, no one will listen to it.”

Selectman Jamie Mowat Young said she also initially had doubts about the commission’s effectiveness, but saw it as a fair way of dealing with the problem.

“I agree that something has to be done,” she said. This was managed by legal counsel. It is used by other societies. It probably won’t make much of a difference at first, but it will give you some support.”

She also noted that the committee would ask both residents and owners – including the Sun Communities – to meet and speak “in a safe environment”.

“It takes them to sit at the table and face you, face to face, say no to your face, and then face the consequences if they break the law,” said Moat Young.

Selectman Louis Annino said he saw the Fair Rent Commission as a proxy for the landlord-tenant relationship that existed before multi-state companies came along to run projects like Beechwood.

“the customer[s] The new owner is the investors, not the tenants. And I see this as a way to change that backwards,” he said.

Gorsky added that the committee will include representation of both tenants and landlords, so that there is a “diversity of thought”.

“As an owner, you don’t feel threatened by this. Think of this as a conversation, think of this as understanding… that you have a chance to hear your voices — on both sides of the table —.”

Gorsky told CT Examiner before the meeting that she believed the Fair Rent Commission would provide a new avenue for people to voice complaints about rent increases, especially those who had sought help elsewhere without success.

“What I wish at Killingworth is that we have a tool in the box for these individuals where, they may have gone [the Department of] Consumer protection and their voices not being heard.” “This gives us another tool in the box for now until more formal legislation is passed.”

Gorsky also told CT Examiner that she did not anticipate a commission-related cost — if a city attorney was needed to deal with litigation, she said, that would deviate from normal operating costs. Or, she said, there might be an opportunity to receive free help from Connecticut Legal Services, Inc.

She said her goal is to get the committee set up and get ready to go by November.

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