Saturday, June 9, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Terrence Thudium sits at a bluish-gray “almost-granite” countertop in his recently refurbished kitchen. He speaks with a combination of fear and fight. The disabled Vietnam War veteran uses words such as “extortion,” “ridiculous” and “exhausted.”
Thudium lives in Mountain View Community, a manufactured housing park for seniors in Henderson. He signed a 20-year lease for land there and settled in a manufactured home he purchased for $75,000. Over the next five years, he spent another $75,000 transforming it into his home. He tore down a hall wall for circulation, added ceramic tiles in the kitchen and redesigned just about every feature to make it perfect.
Thudium is proud of the investment but faces a dilemma. The rent for the land his house sits on has jumped from $680 to $747 in four years. He pays almost the same amount in land rent as his neighbors pay to rent land and a home.
When Thudium settled in Mountain View, park owner Hometown America Communities allowed only homeowners to rent land. When Equity Lifestyle Properties, Inc., took over the park earlier this year, they opened it up to renters.
Thudium can move his home off the lot, but that would cost him more than $5,000. For a 67-year-old, that’s not practical.
“If you try and pay $1,000 per month in mortgages and $800 in rent, you got no money,” Thudium said. “It’s ridiculous. It shouldn’t be this bad. It’s not like renting the house and the land ... which is going for the same dollar figure I’m paying for land. Isn’t that extortion?”
Thudium’s lease dictates that park owners can raise the land rent a minimum of 3.5 percent as long as they give 90 days notice. Thudium signed the lease believing that would only happen in inflation emergencies. He was wrong.
Equity Lifestyle Properties agreed to freeze land rent for the next two years. But there is nothing preventing the company from increasing rent afterward.
So Thudium is trapped at the mercy of the park owners, hoping his rent doesn’t extend beyond what his disabled veterans benefits and social security income can afford. He has already been forced to put off any vacations or trips home to Chicago. He dreads the day rent creeps above $900, the maximum he can afford.
“Look at all I got invested,” Thudium said. “I’m 67, I can’t do this crap again another time. I’m exhausted, and I’m not done with (fixing the house).”
Equity Lifestyle Properties did not comment.
For the past 13 legislative sessions, the Nevada Association of Manufactured Homeowners (NAMH), which represents manufactured home owners, has proposed a rent justification bill to help homeowners like Thudium.
The bill would require park owners to justify raises in rent to a board if rent is increased more than a certain percentage. Each time, it failed.
Doris Green, president of the NAMH, said land rent at many manufactured home parks in Clark County has skyrocketed since the recession.
If owners, often seniors, become sick or lose a spouse, many are forced to move out. That opens the door for the park to take ownership of the homes and rent them new tenants. Green said she sees it frequently at Cabana Park, where she lives.
“Now what we have in our own park is people who have moved out or abandoned their home, and now (the park owners) are renting it (out),” Green said. “We have about one-third of the park out to renters.”
Pat McHugh, 74, has lived in Mountain View for the past 14 years. As the economy faltered and rent increased, she watched friends leave the mobile home park as their savings dried up. McHugh, who runs Pat’s Sunshine Shuttle service for her neighbors but barely breaks even with the business, fears that when her lease is up, she will suffer a similar fate.
“I am very fearful that in another four years I will not be able to afford to live here,” McHugh said. “I love living here, but I may not be able to afford it.”
Still, not everyone in Mountain View worries about rent. Joanne Miller, 78, said she has had no issues but also knows she’s lucky to continue to work.
A rent justification bill could help allay residents’ fears. Bob Varallo, a consultant for the NAMH since 1997, said members will try again to get the bill passed. He has little hope they’ll succeed.
Outside Thudium’s home, a moat of red rocks surrounds the walkway. Visitors are forced to trek up his driveway and around the corner of his house to ring his doorbell.
He wants to put eight cement steps in place to make access easier, but paying $1,200 for it makes no sense to him.
Improving the land around his house is pointless, Thudium said. If he decides to move his home to a new lot, it won’t go with him. If he abandons the home, it only will make it a more attractive property for the park to rent out.
Thudium sees no way out of his predicament. He has tried writing letters to park owners, but they just scan back the page of the lease he signed agreeing to accept land rent increases.
Thudium beamed with pride the day he signed those documents. Now, he’s not so sure.
“First time I owned a house,” Thudium said. “Boy did I get stuck.”