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July 22, 2014

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ANSWERS: CLARK COUNTY:

Rent hike redux at Cactus Ridge

Mobile home community’s residents again accuse owner of attempting to force them out

Residents of Cactus Ridge Mobile Home Community are elderly and in many cases disabled. Most live on fixed incomes, often on Social Security alone.

Take Phil Bardelli, for example. Blind from glaucoma, the 65-year-old lives with only his two cats in a rundown single-wide manufactured in 1972. He receives $1,127 a month from Social Security, less than he made in a week when he worked in construction. It’s hardly enough for him to get by. That’s why he hasn’t been paying his gas bill and hasn’t fixed his backed-up sink.

Like about 50 other residents at the park, Clark County relocated him from another park in the late 1990s to make way for airport expansion. The county later sold the park Bardelli is living in to a private owner, who then sold it to the current owner, Las Vegas Mobile 18, a company managed by Ray Koroghli.

Now the long-term leases of those the county relocated are expiring, and they are getting notices that their rents will be increasing dramatically.

Wait a minute. Isn’t this the same park where the owners tried to increase rents $200 per month last year?

Yes. You’ll recall that County Commissioners Bruce Woodbury and Chris Giunchigliani intervened and persuaded Koroghli to cut the increase in half for 12 months. Those increases didn’t affect the people the county relocated because their long-term leases protected them from steep rent hikes. Instead, they affected those who had moved into the park later and were on month-to-month leases. Still, many of the relocated residents saw increases on their fellow residents’ rent as an attempt to force people out, making way for a resort development on the site.

How big are these latest rent increases?

John Vilches, 77, who lost his legs to diabetes, got a notice April 23 that his rent will jump about $180 a month from $420 to $599.60 when the lease he signed with the county 10 years ago expires July 31. The notice says the landlord will agree only to month-to-month leases.

Additionally, Vilches will have to pay for water, sewage and garbage, fees the landlord had paid in the past.

Doesn’t such an increase violate Koroghli’s agreement with commissioners?

Not according to Todd Bice, an attorney representing Koroghli. He said Koroghli is simply making the relocated residents pay the same month-to-month rent that others in the park are paying.

What will happen to the residents?

Good question. Bardelli hasn’t received his notice yet because his lease expires in February. But he doesn’t know how he’ll survive such a jolting rent increase. He’s barely making it with his current rent of $331 a month.

“I’m in one hell of a mess,” he said.

Another resident, who asked that her name be withheld, is in a similar situation. She’s 93, uses a wheelchair and lives on a fixed income of $700 a month.

“I don’t know how I’ll manage,” she said.

Does Koroghli plan to close the park?

Not yet. But he isn’t hiding the fact that he wants to sell or develop the site. The park’s management company sent out a different notice last month informing residents that the owner is applying for a zone change that would allow a resort hotel on the property.

Residents suspect Koroghli wants to force them out so he doesn’t have to pay to relocate them, which state law requires if an owner closes a park. Relocation can cost up to $10,000 per resident.

But Koroghli insists he isn’t trying to force anyone out. The park is losing money, he said. If a decision is made to close the park, he has said, he will follow state law and pay to relocate residents.

Speaking of housing troubles, why do owners of vacant houses have to pay garbage bills, even if the home is generating no garbage?

That question has been on the minds of many people lately. Here’s why:

County law requires residential property owners to subscribe to trash service if the home is connected to one or more utilities, regardless of whether anyone lives in the house. The idea is to make it less tempting for residents to cancel trash service and dump their garbage illegally.

Plus it can be difficult to determine whether a home is occupied.

To make sure it gets every dime it’s owed, garbage company Republic Services recently began cross-referencing homes connected to utilities with its customer database. If a home is connected to a utility but not paying for trash service, Republic is sending a notice to the owner.

The notices and the law on which they are based are especially irritating to people who own a home that is vacant while they are trying to rent it out or sell it. The county has seen an increase in complaints from such folks amid the downturn in the housing market and the notices from Republic.

Is the county going to do anything about the complaints?

No. The county took an internal look at the issue last month, but decided the law should stay on the books. An internal county memo says: “While the county has received many requests to amend our code to allow for an exemption from the mandatory requirement for vacant residences, the benefits of this requirement outweigh the result of such an amendment.”

Anything else going on?

Commissioners are expected to sign off on a five-year contract Tuesday with recently appointed University Medical Chief Executive Kathy Silver.

Under the deal, she would earn $250,000 annually, the highest base salary of any county employee — but $5,257 less than her predecessor, Lacy Thomas, who was fired last year after UMC lost millions of dollars more than he had previously reported to commissioners. Thomas now is under investigation for allegedly steering do-nothing UMC contracts to friends in Chicago.

As interim chief executive, Silver has been making $203,985 a year.

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