Brighton at Barnegat Tenants Hit With Major Rent Increase

Nov 15, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Brighton at Barnegat residents recently were surprised to receive in their mail a notice for a proposed hefty land rent increase from their landlord, Hometown America. The proposal came to fruition at a Nov. 9 meeting of the Barnegat Township Rent Leveling Board, which approved monthly rent increases of $44.70, of which $35 covers septic pumping costs. 

Michelle Woodruff, president of the Brighton Manufactured Homeowners Association, said monthly rents currently range from approximately $300 to $500 in the mobile home community of 276 land rent sites occupied by about 385 homeowners. She said that over the years, land rents have covered the costs of park utilities, taxes, community improvements and larger capital improvements. 

“Up until this year the annual monthly rent increases averaged $8 to $10,” said Woodruff. “So many of our people live on fixed incomes, they could have a hard time affording this new increase.”

Lori Greenberg, Hometown’s legal representative, stated that Hometown is in the process of replacing three of 20 septic systems this fall. She proposed that the $35 increase covering septic repairs will be spread out over three years, or $11.74 per month per year per household. That cost would not be reduced by any future savings from the new systems. 

“We thought that spreading it out over three years would be fair to all parties,” she said. 

Ray Leszanzyk, rent board member, said he voted for the rent increase because the repairs were necessary.

“Hometown was talking about how they had a hard time getting approvals from the Pinelands Commission and the state (Department of Environmental Protection),” he said. “They need to make improvements because if they don’t, the suspect system could harm the drinking water. But if they don’t come back with a better plan when it comes up again next year, I’ll vote no.”  

During a public comment session, Bill Murray, a Casey Court resident, expressed fear of the inevitability of water supply contamination due to delayed replacement of aged-out septic infrastructure. Greenberg said that although the infrastructure was already 25 years old when Hometown purchased the development in 2004, residents “are lucky to have received nearly 40 years’ extended service from the systems.” 

Ron Naples, a resident of Brighton Road, commented. “Why has Hometown not prepared for these inevitabilities? They have owned the park for 14 years and should have a reserve fund for these items and should have been ready to move on this failure as soon as they became aware of it.” 

Woodruff said that of the three systems being replaced, two had already been replaced five years ago at the cost of about $50,000. 

“Residents will continue to bear that cost over the next 15 years in addition to the proposed $450,000, which will hit the residents next year,” she said.

Gary Miller, president of the New Jersey Manufactured Home Association, spoke to the loss of nearly all amenities due to Hometown’s failure to maintain them. Hometown’s regional manager, Tara Edmunds, countered that the residents have made no requests for the lost amenities even in a survey she said was distributed to the community. Many in the audience said they had not received a survey.

Woodruff said that if residents wanted to appeal the decision, they would have to go to Ocean County Courthouse in Toms River and speak to a Superior Court representative.

“We would find out if we can appeal individually or as a group,” she said. “If we appeal as a group, we must have legal representation. The loser in the case is responsible for both sides’ legal and court costs. The residents only have 45 days to file from the date of the township hearing.”

She said it is ”extremely discouraging“ to move into a community promoting the concept of owning your own home with the sales pitch that your water, land taxes, common utilities and trash are included in your land rent.

“The reality is, these landowners get to pass on to the homeowner exorbitant expenses including roadways, infrastructure,” she said. “However, you get no say in how they go about it, how much they spend, and who they use to do the work. We thought we were buying homes with reasonable costs of utilities, a place we could retire within our means, not the responsibility for the entire functioning of the landowners’ property.”  

— Eric Englund

ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

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