Clamam County Commissioner Bill Beach, who represents the West End, attended a meeting of rainforest residents on Saturday to hear their concerns, and said Thursday he would report on them to fellow commissioners Mark Uzias and Randy Johnson on Tuesday. This issue is not on the agenda for a business meeting on Monday or a business meeting on Tuesday.
Don Tucker of Property Manager, LLC in Sequim, owner of Rain Forest Mobile Home Park, alerted tenants of the 29-space property in February that their monthly rent of $350 would rise to $1,000 in March 2023. Tenants say the increase is not so beyond What most can afford, but seems to be intentionally high to get them to leave.
Tereasa Staley plans to be at the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday. “We’d love to stop him (Tucker) from doing what he’s doing, but that’s not going to happen,” said Staley, who lives in the Rain Forest with her disabled mother and sister.
In an email, Tucker said the increase is necessary because he owes $24,000 in late rent. Besides the delayed repairs, he said the current situation in the Rain Forest is unsustainable.
“The rent increase is a combination of forcing the park to take on excessive overdue balances that require a higher level of staffing for routine management, inflation of all costs including improvement and maintenance, and an overall increase in the cost of housing in general,” Tucker said.
“A large proportion of the park’s renters are unable to pay $350 rent, and certainly unable to maintain their homes,” he added. I’d rather the park be partly empty than full of the residents I’ve been forced to support.
Tucker blamed the park’s decline on a statewide moratorium on eviction enacted in March 2020, which shielded tenants unable to pay their rent due to financial hardship, and left landlords without resorting to collecting unpaid rent or freeing rental units.
“It has become a little bit eye-opening for these residents and tourists of the Forks who pass every day,” Tucker said of Rain Forest.
Tucker did not respond to a question asking why he did not seek to evict or work with tenants who did not pay or are late in paying their rent after the moratorium expired on October 31 last year.
Moving is not imminent. Tucker gave Rain Forest tenants 12 months’ notice of the rent increase, much longer than the 90 days he was required to do under state law.
Forks Mobile Home Park and Castle Rock Mobile Home Park in Forks have vacancies and are ready to accept Rain Forest residents.
Forks Mobile Home Park offers Rain Forest residents $5,000 cash for moving expenses, plus six months of free rent, after which they’ll pay $400 per month.
“We actually spoke with Don before[the rent increase]came into effect, so he was trying to be somewhat proactive in making sure the tenants had a choice,” said Nick Cibula, director of the community management group, which also owns and operates Forks Mobile Home Park. to 14 mobile homes and RV properties in the Northwest.
However, there are hurdles. Neither Forks nor Castle Rock Mobile Home Park allow dogs over 50 pounds, which means Rain Forest tenants like Jerry and Dee Janssen cannot bring two Labrador retrievers, Ash and Loacie, “like their children,” Jerry said.
Even with relocation assistance, moving a dual-width mobile home can cost around $10,000, said Mark Soderlind, who owns Marietta Mobile Home Courts at Forks.
“The crew will take it apart and put it back together, but that’s it,” Soderlind said. “You have to do all the other things, like bring the skirt back and put the steps back. And it all has to do with the county code.”
Figure into disconnecting and reconnecting electrical, sewer and any needed repairs to the chassis and wheels before the mobile home is safe on the road and costs can add up quickly.
The Constructed/Mobile Home Resettlement Assistance Program in Washington State provides cash to relocate residents when they sell the land their mobile home is being sold on, but because Tucker is not selling his property, Rain Forest residents are ineligible.
Staley wants to see an end to Washington’s ban on rent control that would block the 187 percent increase that rainforest residents face. It has started an online petition at chng.it/rpGZkk5v to repeal the laws that prevent cities (RCW 35.21.830) and counties (RCW 36.01.130) from implementing and enforcing rent controls that have been in place since 1981.
An attractive solution but in the more distant future may involve tenants purchasing the land and creating a collaborative mobile home community where they can own and manage the property themselves.
However, high start-up costs make such projects very challenging, said Victoria O’Banion, a marketing and acquisitions specialist at the Northwest Center for Cooperative Development, which helps manufactured and mobile homeowners form cooperatives.
“Unless you have a million dollars, it’s practically impossible,” O’Banion said.
Paul Hunt is a freelance writer and Photographer living in Port Angeles.