Mobile home park tenants get eviction notice after 45 years
As lawmakers consider mobile home park reforms, couple likely to challenge eviction
Source New Mexico agreed to meet with the new owner of this mobile home park, however, about two hours later, a spokesperson for him sent a written statement saying an attorney advised him “to postpone meeting with you until he has had ample time to obtain legal counsel.” The Penitentiary of New Mexico is seen in the background on the horizon. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
SANTA FE COUNTY — What used to be called the Dale Mobile Village was named after the owner Jack Dale, who ran the place for decades with his wife.
It’s a tight-knit community in a rural part of Santa Fe County that has been shaken up in part by a change in ownership.
Dale’s children still live there. His granddaughter grew up with a man named Erasmo Ochoa-Dozal.
In January, the family sold the property, which has at least a dozen occupied mobile homes parked on it, to Ochoa-Dozal, and he renamed it Alborada Mobile Home Park.
But Aaron Dennis said he and other tenants didn’t have prior notice of the sale.
“We never got a chance to say anything,” he said.
Ochoa-Dozal told all the tenants he was raising their monthly rents. For Aaron and Rachel Dennis, it would mean their rent would rise from $380 to $700, a 184% increase which would make the lot unaffordable for them.
However, just saying you’re going to raise rents is not a legal notice of a rent increase, so the tenants organized a meeting and demanded he propose it in writing.
In response, Ochoa-Dozal said he delayed the rent increases to April and sent a letter to the tenants on Wednesday giving them two months “to think about what they want to do before they sign a new contract, which is coming next week.”
“I’m trying to do the best I can,” Ochoa-Dozal said.
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Ochoa-Dozal said in an interview he raised the rents in order to pay the mortgage on the property.
“I bought the place but the mortgage and all that, it’s impossible to run a business like that,” Ochoa-Dozal said. “But our mortgage costs a lot.”
“He needs the $700 per space to pay for his mortgage, because he mortgaged it that much,” said Rachel Dennis, who handles the bills for herself and her husband.
Ochoa-Dozal said the mobile home park is not his only source of income. He said he works in construction.
Rachel works as a secretary for eight hours per week on average, and Aaron, a retired artist and video editor, is on a fixed income through Social Security.
“We’re barely making it as it is,” Aaron Dennis said. “It’s just out of the question.”
Before publication of this article, Ochoa-Dozal invited Source New Mexico to visit the trailer park in order “to really have a good report” that would not be “one-sided.”
“It’s going to be hard for you to understand, and people like you probably want to hear and see what’s going on, thinking that sometimes landlords abuse people,” Ochoa-Dozal said. “But believe me, it’s the opposite.”
Source New Mexico agreed to meet Ochoa-Dozal at the park. About two hours later, a spokesperson for him sent a written statement saying an attorney advised him “to postpone meeting with you until he has had ample time to obtain legal counsel.”
Eviction notice doesn’t give reason
On Feb. 1, Ochoa-Dozal sent the couple an eviction notice, telling them to move out 30 days later, which was March 2.
Ochoa-Dozal became “really upset” when he found out Maria Griego, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, had sent him a letter detailing the illegal practices and letting him know the 30-day notice to terminate is invalid and illegal, and that the Dennis couple has every right to stay in their home until further notice.
“He’s already so upset and mad at us that he’s ready to throw us out, right now,” Rachel Dennis said.
Ochoa-Dozal said he is evicting the couple because they refused to purchase a tenant’s insurance policy. Aaron Dennis said Ochoa-Dozal asked him and the other tenants to make him the beneficiary of the insurance policies.
“I understand there is a legal requirement for the insurance, but not for him to be involved,” Aaron Dennis said.
Ochoa-Dozal said he has not tried to evict anyone else living in the park, and Griego said no one has been evicted yet.
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In New Mexico, the Landlord Tenant Act governs rental agreements generally but there is also the Mobile Home Park Act, designed to provide greater protections to residents because they generally own their home but rent the lot.
Griego said mobile home park tenants are inherently vulnerable to abusive practices by unscrupulous landlords.
The Mobile Home Park Act limits when landlords can end a rental agreement, for things like not complying with the rules of the park, or if the park has been rezoned. It requires a landlord to follow very strict compliance with notice requirements, but also provide detailed reasons why the tenancy is being terminated.
“That didn’t happen here,” Griego said.
Ochoa-Dozal simply gave the Dennis couple a 30-day notice to terminate the rental agreement without citing any particular reason, Griego said.
“That’s illegal,” she said.
Griego is representing the Dennis couple and other park residents but none of the residents have filed anything in court.
“If he’s got reasonable reasons, I’d like to have him present them in writing,” Aaron Dennis said.
Forty-five years ago, Aaron and Rachel rented out a parcel of land in the Dale Mobile Village. Aaron Dennis said they originally planned to stay here no more than five years while looking for their own piece of property.
They couldn’t afford it, so they have lived here “by default” for decades. In that time, Aaron Dennis said he once disagreed with Dale’s decision to cut out Chinese elm trees which, according to Ochoa-Dozal, were growing into the septic tank.
But in the 45 years they’ve lived there, nothing ever escalated to the point of eviction.
“Oh nothing, no, never ever,” Aaron Dennis said.
Couple not the only ones
The Dennis couple’s story is simply one of many New Mexicans whose landlords see these mobile home parks “as a means of making profit,” Griego said.
“Communities are destroyed, low-income families are left scrambling looking for new housing,” Griego said.
New Mexico has a shortage of affordable housing, and “we need to protect the affordable housing that we have,” she said.
A proposal to change state law going through the Legislature called Senate Bill 298 would require mobile home park managers to provide residents a written copy of the rental agreement.
It would also increase the amount of time a resident can get caught up on rent after receipt giving notice to vacate from three days to 45 days. It would also require landlords to apply payments made to delinquent rent first so people are less likely to be evicted when they make payments.
It would also require advance notice of owners’ intent to sell the park and give residents associations priority, should they wish to purchase the park.
“That would be huge,” Aaron Dennis said. “We didn’t have any opportunity to even discuss the possibility of working out something like buying it ourselves.”
The bill would also limit the frequency of, and amount of rental increases statewide.
“Unfortunately, a case like this proves the need for that,” Aaron Dennis said.
The Dennis couple also can’t afford to move their mobile home, and are considering selling it. In the meantime, they’ll be out in the national forest or staying with friends, if it comes to it.
“That’s the situation with a good number of the tenants, I understand,” Aaron Dennis said.
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