An Oct. 3 email from Assistant Attorney General Sebastian Miller with the state’s Manufactured Housing Dispute Resolution Program outlined findings and proposed resolutions regarding complaints from tenants at Aberdeen’s Leisure Manor Estates. Crosscut recently reported on widespread rent increases, maintenance changes and new penalty fees imposed after Hurst & Son took over dozens of communities statewide.
“Our intent is to ensure fair and lawful practices in mobile home communities,” Miller wrote. “We acknowledge that these proposed resolutions do not encompass all outstanding issues and we will continue to work toward full resolution.”
The preliminary findings allege unlawful changes to lease agreements, rental rates and tenant maintenance obligations as well as excessive penalty fees. Miller recommended rescinding rental increases in some cases, refunding excessive fees and updating lease agreements to comply with the Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act.
Port Orchard-based Hurst & Son has until Oct. 17 to respond to or accept the proposal. Representatives from the company did not respond to Crosscut’s request for comment.
UPDATE, Oct. 16, 2023: The attorney general's office has shared an email from Hurst & Son confirming they will hold off on Leisure Manor rent increases on unsigned leases until the next renewal anniversary this coming summer.
Deb Wilson, president of the Leisure Manor Tenants Association, filed the original complaint and said she hopes the findings establish a precedent that results in changes at not just Leisure Manor, but all 56 Hurst & Son-owned communities in Washington state. Wilson and her husband said they will hold off on rejoicing until they get more clarity.
“I think they kind of made an overall decision for all the parks in that email,” she said. “But … I don’t know if that’s going to apply to everyone in the park, or just the people who complained.”
Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, wrote in an email the resolutions regarding changes to rental rates would address all impacted Leisure Manor tenants, “however, we are pursuing the same change at other [Hurst & Son] parks.”
One of the Aberdeen tenants’ largest concerns involved a monthly rent increase from about $485 under the previous management to close to $850 a month under Hurst & Son. Hurst & Son tenants and housing advocates have criticized the similar rental increases throughout the state as “economic eviction.”
Miller explained in his email the state’s mobile home tenant protections do not limit or restrict the size of rent increases.
“This issue is therefore outside of the scope and authority of our dispute resolution program,” he wrote. “If you require rental assistance, there may be local programs that can assist qualifying tenants.”
A desk at Leisure Manor residents Deb and Dave Wilson’s home is covered in notes and research from their fight to enact tenant protections into state and local law. The Wilsons and the Hardy’s testified before the state legislature in Olympia and the Aberdeen City Council, and have helped get some local protections in place. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)
The preliminary findings did however challenge the increase of rates outside lease renewal dates and changing renewal dates without the agreement of Aberdeen tenants. The attorney general’s office has requested that Hurst & Son revoke any improper rate increases and reimburse affected tenants for any overcharged amounts.
Additionally, the proposed resolution found that a $65 rule violation fee that Hurst & Son had imposed on tenants for parking or maintenance infractions was “excessive” and “not clearly justified under MHLTA guidelines for enforceable rules.” Instead, the attorney general’s office recommended that the fee be reduced to $20, and have the difference refunded to affected tenants.
The attorney general’s office also alleged that Hurst & Son had not always provided a notice of sale to tenants as required by a recent amendment to the RCW 59.20 that went into effect in July.
“While past violations are beyond our jurisdiction,” Miller wrote, “we expect Hurst & Son to fully comply moving forward.”
Failure to comply with the new notification law can cost landlords like Hurst & Son a penalty of $10,000 from the state; and if problems continue to persist, the attorney general’s office will become involved in enforcement.
Dispute program staff also found that recent changes to lease agreements that transferred the responsibility for maintaining permanent structures to residents would violate state law. Miller requested any such provisions be removed from lease agreements.
In response to a complaint that Hurst & Son had unlawfully overcharged tenants for utilities, the dispute program findings stated that no evidence had been found of improper charges, but that specific fee transfers remained under investigation.
Since the Leisure Manor Tenants Association’s inception in February 2022, Wilson and her organizing counterpart, Caroline Hardy, have rallied other residents to document complaints with the dispute resolution program.
The Wilsons said that leading up to the attorney general’s office’s findings on Tuesday, the two had been persistent in filing one complaint after another on a variety of issues, and “pretty soon we had sent emails back and forth to them enough times that they combined our complaint.”
Both tenants and advocates have expressed to Crosscut that they believe the attorney general’s office’s authority to act is limited by the RCW 59.20 – and wish the office could offer tenants more navigational support when filing a complaint through the Manufactured Housing Dispute Resolution Program.
Crosscut recently found more than 100 consumer complaints filed with the Attorney General’s Office over landlord practices at Hurst & Son properties. Property records show the company has grown rapidly in recent years, spending at least $116 million on acquiring 35 parks in Washington since 2017.
The purpose of the Manufactured Housing Dispute Resolution Program is to provide tenants a cost-effective process for resolving disputes with landlords, Aho wrote, and as a result the program must attempt to negotiate with a landlord before taking any enforcement actions.
“If that fails,” Aho wrote, “sometimes the complaint will be referred to the program attorney for enforcement efforts, which can include notices of violation and daily fines."
Landlords such as Hurst & Son are subject to fees of $250 per day per violation until corrective action is taken. They are also given the opportunity to appeal any of the program’s resolutions, and in that case, the attorney general’s office will call for an administrative hearing.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify rollbacks of improper rent increases at Leisure Manor would apply to all impacted community tenants, not just those who complained.
Get the latest investigative news
A newsletter for resources, data and behind-the-scenes insight into investigative efforts.