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FMO NEWS-JULY 2002

PAINS OF MOBILE HOME PARK CLOSING CAN BE EASED BY THE RIGHT DEVELOPER !

By Louis S. St.Laurent II

Louis S. St.Laurent II is a Former Chief Assistant State Attorney of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit of Florida. He practices law in Coral Springs and is President of ?Le Soleil de La Floride? Florida?s largest French newspaper. He is the Association attorney got Griffin Lakes and Highland Park.

This year several mobile home parks have received their notice of eviction, under Section 723.061, because of a change in land use. One of those mobile home parks was Lone Pine in Miami-Dade where the park owner is claiming that he does not have to pay any costs of relocation because his notice of eviction was sent prior to the effective date of the new relocation law, July 1, 2001. The former provisions of Chapter 723, which provided compensation to the mobile home owners for the value of the home, when the park was closed, had been declared unconstitutional by the First district court of appeals.

Griffin Lakes and Highland Park on Griffin Road in the City of Dania Beach (Broward ) are ready to be closed since the land has been sold to a large developer and was re-zoned by the city for 420 town houses on May 28, 2002. MKN Investors, LLC., the new owner of the property is expected to send out the 6 month notices of eviction the first week of July. Since most of the mobile homes in these two parks are from 20 to 40 years old it appears that many of the homes will not be relocated and will have to be abandoned.

At the first meeting of the zoning advisory board of the city of Dania Beach, 200 residents of the parks attended the meeting where the association attorney objected to the rezoning on the grounds that the applicant had not presented a relocation plan to the city showing that there were sufficient spaces in parks within a 50 mile radius which would accept the older homes. Many mobile home parks, by their rules and regulations, will not accept mobile homes older than 5 or 10 years. In addition, many of these homes in these two parks would not be in compliance with the newer zoning and building codes adopted after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. At this zoning meeting, James Carr, head of MKN Investors, a well known and respected town house developer in Broward and Miami-Dade, approached two members of the association?s board and their attorney, asking them if they were interested in negotiating better payments than offered under Chapter 723 for the closing of the park. As a result of several meetings, the board unanimously approved a settlement agreement with MKN Investors, with a provision that it had to be approved by at least 75% of the park residents to go into effect.

The residents were then asked to agree to the settlement agreement, and to sign a consent form agreeing to the higher payments for the closing of the parks and agreeing not to appeal the rezoning or litigate the amount of compensation, which would have required contesting the legality of the relocation provisions of Chapter 723, an impossible and expensive task.

The additional financial payments and relocation assistance offered by James Carr, under this executed settlement agreement, included the following:

1-In the case of a home being abandoned, the homeowner would receive $2,000 for a single wide or $4,000 for a double wide instead of $1,250 and $2,500 under Chapter 723.0612 (7), (1/4 of the maximum allowable moving expense). The agreement also provided that if the single wide had an addition which was more than 50% of the size of the single wide, the homeowners would receive an additional $1,000. The home owners of either a single or double wide would also receive an additional $300 per month for every month he or she agreed to leave the park before the end of the six month notice. Also, as long as the home owner signed the early departure form agreeing to leave before the six months, upon receiving the notice of eviction, he would receive the additional $1,800, although he would not be required to leave immediately as most of the property would not be needed for many months, several months after the notice of eviction. Therefore a single wide home owner could receive $4,800 for abandoning his home and a double wide owner would receive $5,800. Chapter 723 only provides the sum of $1,250 for a single wide and $2,500 for a double wide being abandoned. In additional the settlement agreement provided that the home owner would receive payment from the developer within 72 hours of applying for the payment. Also those signing the consent form would have their rents reduced from $352 to $300 at Griffin Lakes and from $299 to $250 at Highland Park until they left the parks.

2- In the case of those relocating, in addition to the moving costs provided under Chapter 723, the developer agreed to pay the $1,800 for early departure and the cost of a full time person experienced in mobile home parks in Broward on site to assist the residents in finding the moving contractor and the suitable mobile home park for them to relocate into. This person?s function is to find the mobile home parks and negotiate with them initial free rent for those moving into those parks. As an example one park in Broward is offering 6 months of free rent for moving into that park. With the vacancy rates in mobile home parks in this area there is a need for those parks to bring in new residents and they are being asked to bid for residents of Griffin and Highland.

The developer, Mr. James Carr also created a special fund of $250,000 for special needs of the elderly and disabled and other special cases, such as a case of a late pregnancy during relocation, to be administered jointly by himself and the association attorney or representative with the unspent balance of this fund being divided between the park residents who had received funds under the settlement agreement after all the special cases are taken care of. The purpose of the fund was that Mr. Carr wanted to avoid any major disruption in the lives of the elderly and disabled residents by making available separate funds for their temporary motel stay and other expenses during their relocation. There is a 101 year old woman in this park who has resided there for over 35 years. If her house cannot be moved the funds can be used to find her another suitable home.

During the discussions with the developer the association attorney was in contact with FMO president, Don Hazelton and with Section Director, J.C. Dansereau, to keep them advised of the developer?s offer and to seek their advice.

Over 80% of the residents have now approved the agreement and signed the consent forms. This was as a result of the tremendous efforts of the park?s board of directors and the volunteers, especially the efforts of President, Bob Pullen, and directors Marc Laberge, Renald Richard, Paul Whiteaker, Hilda Lazo, Thomas Cannor and Fausto Zepeda.

The park had four major ethnic groups, English, French, Spanish and Asian, all of whom were approached separately and several meetings were held with each group with interpreters. The consent forms were prepared in three languages and notices and explanation sheets were provided to all residents. It was difficult to explain the limited payments they would receive under Chapter 723 for abandoning their home when many did not know about the new relocation law passed on July 1, 2001. Many still thought that they would be receiving the full value of their homes. Since the lack of the 75% approval would hurt all the residents and a few park residents were campaigning against the agreement, the Florida room of director Renald Richard?s home became the campaign headquarters for the army of volunteers for three weeks until the required approval percentage was obtained. Another difficulty was the number of absent owners during May and June which required extensive efforts to find them out of state and out of country to have them fax back the consent forms.

Griffin Lakes and Highland Park is an example of a park closing where the residents obtained more help and money than the law required because the FMO got involved and a good developer, James Carr, wanted to do more to help the park residents.

Submitted by Louis S. St.Laurent II. The legal opinion and analysis in the above article are not necessarily those of the FMO or its publisher. The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. Before you decide, ask for written information about the lawyer?s qualifications and experience.