By Paula Hunt
When the hand-delivered letter announcing a 186 percent rent increase arrived at homes in the Rain Forest Mobile Home Park, residents were stunned. Starting in March 2023, their monthly rent would rise from $350 to $1,000.
After the initial shock came distress at the idea of moving from a place some have called home for almost 30 years, panic at the thought of how and where they might relocate their mobile homes, and anger at being asked to pay an amount they believe was intended to get them to move.
For Tereasa Staley, who along with her mother, Virginia Rubio, and disabled sister, Sheila, live at Rain Forest, the letter inspired a campaign to organize residents and begin a petition drive to change state law so tenants would be protected from what she called “unfair and ridiculous” rent hikes.
“They know we can’t pay $1,000 a month,” Staley said, adding that she has invested nearly $40,000 upgrading the mobile home she bought in 2014. “And we’re not alone. This is happening all over the country.”
While the jump in rent at Rain Forest might appear excessive, it is legal. Under state law, there is no limit to the amount landlords can raise rent, and the one-year notification residents received about the increase is far longer than the 60-day notice required.
Donald Tucker of Property Manager, LLC, who owns Rain Forest, could not be reached for comment before deadline.
Located inside Forks city limits on U.S. Highway 101, the Rain Forest Mobile Home Park dates from the early 1970s and sits in an overlap zone that allows for residential and commercial land use.
Forks city attorney and planner Rod Fleck said he was not aware of any permits filed with the city that would indicate plans the owner had for the property, such as expansion and modifications or change of use.
“The owner told us [the city] I think the day of or around the same time residents got the letter about the rent increase,” Fleck said. “That’s it.”
An unpaved road pockmarked with potholes runs through Rain Forest and past about 25 homes that range from tidy and well-maintained to ramshackle and dilapidated. Some tenants rent their spaces month-to-month, while others have yearly leases. Concern about the rate increase appeared to be universal.
A meeting organized by Mark Soderlind, owner of the Marietta Mobile Home Courts in Forks, to consider options for tenants on Saturday drew more than 40 Rain Forest residents and families to the Beaver Sheriff’s Station.
Also joining the discussion were Alder Grove Mobile Home Park owner Jerry King; Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach; Port Angeles City Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin — who participated as a representative of Firelands Workers United, a nonprofit that advocates for good jobs and affordable housing in rural areas — and Edith Baltazar of Firelands Workers United, who translated the discussion into Spanish for the many Rain Forest residents for whom English is their second language.
Soderlind, who was born and raised in Forks and operates the mobile home park he and his father built almost 50 years ago, said he and King became involved in helping Rain Forest residents for one primary reason: where are they going to go?
“We need to move on from changing his (Tucker’s) mind about the rent,” Soderlind said.
“This (rent hike) is going to happen.”
Mobile home owners in Forks have few options. In addition to Soderlind and King’s properties (which currently have no vacancies), there are Forks Mobile Home Park and Castle Rock Mobile Home Park, which some residents see as no option at all.
For Rain Forest residents Jerry and Dee Janssen, the 30-pound weight limit for dogs at the Forks and Castle Rock Mobile Home parks means they won’t be moving there with their friendly and exuberant Labrador retrievers Ash and Loacie.
“I will live in my car before I give up my dogs,” Jerry Janssen said. “They’re like our children.”
The Janssens purchased their mobile home in Rain Forest three years ago when they were priced out of the mobile home they rented in Sequim.
Their small, neat yard contains raised garden beds Jerry Janssen built, and a Dungeness Golf Course tee sign given to him when he retired as its assistant supervisor is posted at the entry.
“We thought this was our forever home,” Dee Janssen said. “But we might just sell it and buy an RV and hit the road.”
Hitting the road is not a possibility for Carlos Estrada and Reyna Elena, salal pickers from Mexico who raised their three girls and two boys in a double-wide mobile home at Rain Forest.
Speaking through her daughter Melissa Portnoy, a nurse at Forks Community Hospital, Reyna Elena said when they began living at Rain Forest 20 years ago, they paid $95 a month in rent. The $412 they now pay for rent, utilities, sewer and garbage is doable. One thousand dollars a month would be impossible.
“For my parents, it seems kind of heartless,” Portnoy said.
California and Oregon recently passed legislation limiting the amount landlords can raise rent for existing tenants. In February, House Bill 1904, which would have required landlords in Washington to give six months notice of rent increases of 7.5 percent or more failed to pass.
Staley hopes to collect 4 million signatures on a petition at chng.it/rpGZkk5v urging state legislators to end Washington state’s ban on rent control that has been in effect since 1981.
“That was 40 years ago,” Staley said. “Times have changed and people need help. The only way we’re going to do this is to change the law.”
The immediate need for Rain Forest residents, Soderlind pointed out, was finding a place for them to relocate in an area with few options.
“Moving is the easy part,” Soderlind said of breaking down a mobile home, transporting it, and setting it up again.
“It’s finding a place to move it to that’s going to be hard.”
Paula Hunt is a freelance writer/photographer.”