(Heartland Newsfeed) — Ron Hoffstadt and his wife are 17 year residents at the Prairie Knolls mobile and manufactured home park just east of Jacksonville. Danny Davidson, a retired paramedic and disabled Vietnam veteran, has lived at his home in Rolling Acres since 1995. Both may be forced to find new residences on August 1st when their lot rent payments will go up by at least 40% or more.
These two cases are indicative of several retirees, disabled people, and former veterans who live on Jacksonville’s eastern edge. The reason the lot rents are rising are due to a purchase of the two parcels of land by out-of-state investors Time Out Communities, LLC. The company is a little over a year old and already has an annual revenue of over $12 million spread across at least 3 states. Time Out has also purchased other courts in both Springfield and Woodson and Cedarbrook Estates off Brooklyn Avenue in Jacksonville.
Hoffstadt organized a town hall meeting held at Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville to explain the situation, ask for ideas from the community, and to have local government officials offer up advice or help. Hoffstadt started the meeting by explaining the situation of what actually has happened. In early May, many residents received a letter of notification that their lot rent was going up. For many at the time, they had no idea that the property had been purchased from local owner Jess Spradlin, who had been working in the community for over 33 years. Spradlin never properly notified residents of the sale. By Illinois statute, sales of modular home land must be made known to residents one year in advance for any changes to take place. Other statute violations also were on residents’ minds as they brought up other problems of the properties’ management. “I’ve never seen a lease since I’ve been there,” said Davidson, “I signed a piece of paper when I moved in years ago. Rolling Acres has been sold maybe three times since then. I’ve never received a written notice about it.”
Hoffstadt has said that he has petitioned the company and has tried to work with them to make lot rent increase at least more palatable to residents. “What we’re proposing is a 10 percent increase for a two-year lease and then add another 10 percent every two years,” Hoffstadt explained, “It seems they are not willing to do that.” Hoffstadt read a reply to reporter Greg Olson of the Jacksonville Journal-Courier
asking about why the company was raising the rent exponentially. “In these economic times, it’s good business to ensure that investments are properly made,” the email read. The email went on to threaten residents that if the demands weren’t met that consequences would soon follow.
By Illinois statute, modular homes and manufactured homes do not have to abide by 30 day notice policies for eviction for non-compliant residences. Landowners of mobile home parks can issue 5 day notices to residents to pack up and leave, whether they own the modular home or not. Jacksonville property law passed by the City Council during the 1990s prohibits modular homes to be moved into the city limits outside of these two areas. With Time Out Properties owning parks in the nearby towns and the exorbitant costs to trailer and move homes, many residents are being forced into paying the rent or risk losing a roof over their head.
Illinois House Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer (R-100th District) offered little help to his constituency. “Unfortunately, I’m not a lawyer so I can’t provide any legal advice. I have assistants in my office currently checking into things under consumer protection and property law,” Davidsmeyer explained, “I wish I knew where to go. Unlike most politicians, I’m at a loss for words.” Many residence asked if the Jacksonville City Council or Mayor Andy Ezard had anything to offer. “Mayor Ezard has given me some assurance that he’s contacted a couple of attorneys to work pro bono
on our behalf to see if we can get an injunction filed in the court,” Hoffstadt said. One resident noted that there was little time to waste, with August only being 4 weeks away. Some residents offered the idea of no one paying lot rent at all.
Reverend Jonathan Warren of Jacksonville’s First Presbyterian Church offered words of support from some of the clergy of Jacksonville. “You have a right to be angry,” Warren said, “but use that anger towards good action. Ensure people keep showing up to these type of things. Go to the City Council and ask them to do something on your behalf, because this is something that affects the whole community.” Warren concluded by saying that the Jacksonville church community is in full support of getting all the citizens involved some help to stay in their homes with little fear of losing their ability to live their lives in peace and comfort.
Morgan County Libertarian Party representative Ben Cox was one of the last speakers from the community to voice concerns. “This is a direct violation of your rights as citizens by Illinois statute,” Cox said, “I’m sorry that your leaders didn’t read the laws that they legislate or work with but I did and there are many violations that you all have spoken about that need to be amended and addressed in the court. I will do what I can to help you find an attorney to help get you representation so that you won’t lose your homes.” Cox said he’s not beholden to local or state politics because he’s a third party representative. “This is a Constitutional right as a citizen of the state. I’ll work with whomever to ensure it gets fixed,” he finalized, “Hold your lawmakers, Mr. Spradlin, and this new company accountable for what’s going on here.” Hoffstadt thanked all the speakers and people who raised concerns and ideas throughout the evening: “This fight is not done.”
Hoffstadt and Davidson are holding a second petition drive for citizens at large from the City of Jacksonville to come to the American Legion off of East Morton Avenue to help fight against the rising lot rent costs. “The Legion is open 7 days a week after 12PM, and the petition is being kept at the bar for anyone interested in signing,” Hoffstadt said, wrapping up the last details of the meeting. Hoffstadt and Davidson encouraged the rest of the citizens to contact their local alderman, attend the next City Council meeting, and save all paper work and receipts from the company moving forward to protect their property and money should a legal battle ensue.
Since the notice of rising rent, Time Out Communities removed reviews from their Facebook page due to negative comments and has repeatedly dodged phone calls from residents. Spradlin, the former owner of the lots, has also been rarely seen despite being retained as a local property manager for the company. Some residents have already decided to pack up and leave. More than 4 homes from each court are currently listed on the Time Out Communities official webpage at the new lot rent pricing.
Heartland Newsfeed will continue following this story as it develops over the coming weeks.
Cox is a broadcast media and journalism veteran currently working as news director for WLDS/WEAI in Jacksonville, Ill. He is also chairman of the Morgan County Libertarian Party.