Tenants of a mobile home park in Forks who will see their rents almost triple next year likely will have an opportunity to address Clallam County commissioners at the next regularly scheduled meeting.
Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach, who represents the West End, attended a meeting of Rain Forest residents on Saturday to listen to their concerns, and he said Thursday he will report on them to fellow commissioners Mark Ozias and Randy Johnson on Tuesday. The issue is not on the agenda for the Monday work session or the Tuesday business meeting.
Don Tucker of Property Manager, LLC in Sequim, the owner of Rain Forest Mobile Home Park, alerted tenants at the 29-space property in February that their monthly rent of $350 would jump to $1,000 in March 2023. Tenants say that the increase is not just beyond what most of them can afford, but appears to be purposefully high in order to get them to leave.
Tereasa Staley plans to be at the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday. “We’d like to stop him (Tucker) from doing what he’s doing, but that’s not going to happen,” said Staley, who lives at Rain Forest along with her mother and disabled sister, “so we have to figure out what we’re doing next.”
In an email, Tucker said the increase is necessary because he is owed $24,000 in back rent. Along with overdue repairs, he said the current situation at Rain Forest is unsustainable.
“The rent increase is a combination of the park being forced to carry excessive past due balances requiring higher level of staff for routine management, inflation in all costs including improvement and maintenance, and a general increase in the cost of housing overall,” Tucker said.
“A large percentage of the tenants in the park are unable to pay $350 rent, and certainly are unable to maintain their homes,” he added. “I would rather the park be partially vacant than filled with residents who I’m forced to subsidize.”
Tucker blamed the deterioration of the park on a statewide eviction moratorium enacted in March 2020, which shielded renters unable to pay their rent due to financial difficulties, and left landlords with no recourse for collecting unpaid rent or freeing up rental units.
“It became somewhat of an eyesore for those residents and tourists in Forks that drive past each 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 were behind in their rent after the moratorium expired on Oct. 31 last year.
Relocation is not imminent. Tucker gave Rain Forest tenants a 12-month notice of the rent increase, which is significantly longer than the 90 days he was obligated to under state law.
The Forks Mobile Home Park and Castle Rock Mobile Home Park in Forks have vacancies and are ready to accept Rain Forest residents.
The Forks Mobile Home Park is offering Rain Forest residents $5,000 cash for relocation expenses, as well as six months free rent, after which they would pay $400 a month.
“We actually spoke with Don before this (rent increase) was going to be going into effect, so he was trying to be somewhat proactive in making sure that tenants had an option,” said Nick Cebula, principal of the Community Management Group, which owns and operates Forks Mobile Home Park as well as 14 other mobile home and RV properties in the northwest.
There are snags, however. 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 their two Labrador retrievers, Ash and Loacie, who are “like their children,” Jerry said.
Even with move-in assistance, transporting a double-wide mobile home can cost around $10,000, said Mark Soderlind, who owns Marietta Mobile Home Courts in Forks.
“The crew will break it down and put it back together, but that’s it,” Soderlind said. “You’ve got to do all the other stuff, like putting the skirt back on and putting the steps back. And this has all got to be to county code.”
Figure in disconnecting and reconnecting electrical and sewer services and any needed repairs to the chassis and wheels before the mobile home is safe to go on the road and costs can quickly add up.
Washington state’s Manufactured/Mobile Home Relocation Assistance Program provides cash to help residents relocate when the land on which their mobile home is sold, but because Tucker is not selling his property, Rain Forest residents are not eligible.
Staley wants to see an end to Washington’s ban on rent control that would prohibit the kind of 187 percent increase Rain Forest residents are facing. She has started an online petition at chng.it/rpGZkk5v to rescind the laws preventing cities (RCW 35.21.830) and counties (RCW 36.01.130) from implementing and enforcing rent control that have been in effect since 1981.
An appealing but far-in-the-future solution might involve tenants purchasing land and creating a cooperative mobile home community where they could own and manage the property themselves.
However, prohibitive start-up costs make such projects extremely difficult to get off the ground, said Victoria O’Banion, marketing and acquisition specialist at the Northwest Cooperative Development Center, which assists manufactured and mobile home owners to form cooperatives.
“Unless you have a million dollars, it’s virtually impossible,” O’Banion said.
Paul Hunt is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Angeles.