Residents say the bullying started two years ago, when the new company took over.
They were slapped with fines for letting the grass get too long or for parking the wrong way. A tow truck would cart off cars left parked with a flat tire. Children playing in the park were told to be quiet.
And then the eviction notices started coming.
The evictions from Holiday Village and Shady Hills, both off of Dickerson Pike in East Nashville, come as the New Jersey-based owner of the two mobile home parks has been executing an ambitious expansion plan, replacing older mobile homes with newer, modern versions.
But the moves by UMH Properties Inc. have not been without controversy and the evictions of several immigrant families have left the tenants with little recourse under housing law that favors landlords.
The residents, most of whom are Latino, argue the evictions are discriminatory. But UMH said they haven’t done anything against the law.
“Race, or any other protected class, is never a factor in any of UMH’s landlord practices,” company spokesman Ken Frydman said. “UMH strives to provide quality affordable housing. Enforcement of rules and regulations is necessary to maintain quiet and peaceful communities for all residents.”
While landlords are not required to provide a reason for evicting month-to-month tenants under the law, Frydman said at least five of the evicted families violated community rules and regulations such as owning “menacing pitbulls, animal cruelty, illegal drug possession, illegal poultry farming, an illegal sublease and refusal to remove or fix a broken-down car leaking oil.”
UMH would not identify the accused residents, citing privacy concerns.
A total of 12 families were served with eviction notices over the holidays in what resident Jiovanny Fructuoso contends are only the most recent measures in the company’s effort to turn a profit.
Fructuoso has lived in one mobile home unit at the Shady Hills property on Dickerson Pike with his wife and two children for the past five years without incident, he said. His parents live in another unit with his two younger siblings, just one street over. Both families are being evicted.
At first, the tenants at Holiday Village and Shady Hills went quietly, Fructuoso said, but when he was served an eviction notice, he decided to fight back.
“My mom always told us that you should never let anybody punk you out,” Fructuoso said. “You should stand up for yourself.”
His family have been among the most vocal opponents.
When his father, Jose Fructuoso, went door-to-door in an attempt to organize the neighborhood, a lawyer representing UMH sent him a letter accusing him of forging signatures. The letter went on to threaten immediate eviction should he refuse to stop, according to the document obtained by The Tennessean.
“All the people getting kicked out are the ones who own the trailers,” Jiovanny Fructuoso said. “They said it’s ‘for the good of the community.’ Well, what’s wrong with me?”
Under its business model, UMH develops low-cost lots and buys and installs mobile homes that are offered for sale or rent, according to company financial documents. UMH, which has a finance subsidiary, stands to make more money by selling and renting newcomers the new and more expensive trailers. Buyers can obtain loans to purchase the new manufactured homes at interest rates up to 10 percent.
Since acquiring five Nashville-area mobile home parks from other companies, UMH Properties has become the largest local mobile home community operator.
The company, which owns mobile home communities in seven states, has said it wants to expand a trio of Nashville area mobile parks to accommodate more than 550 new manufactured homes to meet rising demand.
In early December, the Metro Planning Commission recommended that the Metro Council approve UMH’s request for a rezoning to allow 56 more homes at its 130-home Trailmont community in Goodlettsville. In Columbia, Tenn., the mobile home park landlord is looking to double homes at its 348-unit Countryside Village park.
“Nashville is a wonderful market for us,” UMH’s vice president for engineering Jeffrey V. Yorick said last month, citing local growth as driving the company’s expansion plans. “It’s the economy in Nashville — employers moving to the area, redevelopment is occurring all across the region.”
In the Nashville area, Yorick said UMH is seeing strong demand for rental mobile homes with monthly rents around $700 to $900 a month at its communities, approximately double the $450 in rent the Fructuosos and other residents paid.
One of the new mobile homes at Shady Hills costs about $1,200 a month to rent, according to one tenant who recently moved in.
“For every new trailer you see, someone was evicted,” Victor Magadon said in Spanish, gesturing at the modern, pastel colored mobile homes spaced intermittently along the street. He said he’s lived in the park for the past six years without a problem until UMH bought the property.
Magadon, his wife and their five children received an eviction notice that said they had 30 days to move their mobile home and vacate the premises.
Erin Coleman, a Nashville-based lawyer who has been advocating for the residents, managed to get the family an extension but said that from a legal standpoint, evicted tenants have no way to fight back.
While they may own their homes, the tenants rent the land the homes sit on. It costs at least $4,000 to pay a truck to come move the homes, and the landlord is not required to offer to buy back the mobile unit.
Like many of the other residents being evicted, Magadon’s undocumented immigration status makes it especially difficult to find a new place to live.
Coleman has been working to relocate the families alongside Metro Councilman Scott Davis, starting a crowd-source funding site with immigrant advocacy group Justice For Our Neighbors to raise cash for their resettlement. Most of the families will be moved to another mobile home community in Goodlettsville.
She said the company failed to treat residents with dignity and hopes she can stop other families from being displaced.
“People really are being targeted,” Coleman said. “It brings to light how we in America keep poor people poor.”
Last week, the Metro Planning Commission was set to take up a request to add 155 mobile homes to UMH’s 276-unit Holiday Village community.
But about an hour before the meeting, UMH called off it off, requesting an indefinite deferral.
According to Metro Planning Department spokesman Craig Owensby, a deferral — as opposed to a withdrawal — means UMH can bring the request to the commission at a later date.
Frydman later said the company put in the deferral while UMH irons out an agreement with a neighbor over building a secondary access road to the Holiday Village community, something he said the commission required before they would consider approving the project.
“We are hoping to have an agreement for a second access in the next few weeks,” he said.
On a recent day at Shady Hills park, the Fructuoso family stood outside with Coleman and Davis, wondering at the sudden move. They had been planning to speak at the meeting to see if the commission could help stop the evictions and get the company to agree to some protections for residents as a condition of granting UMH’s zoning request.
“I’m afraid that once we forget and go chasing the next shiny new thing from an advocacy standpoint, UMH is going to then take that opportunity to bring up the zoning again,” Coleman said.
In her search for a more permanent solution, Coleman is lobbying Metro Nashville Council members Davis and DeCosta Hastings to give residents more organizing rights.
Davis said he’d be willing to enact what is known as a specific plan to allow Shady Hills and Holiday Village tenants the right to form a homeowners’ association. He also promised to oversee more affordable housing development in his district for those evicted in the future.
“I definitely don’t agree with what (UMH) did,” Davis said. “I’m not trying to be mean to my fellow council members, but if we really wanted to solve the affordable housing crisis, we could.”
Getahn Ward contributed to this report.
Reach Ariana Sawyer at email@example.com, 615-259-8382 or on Twitter @a_maia_sawyer.
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