County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, expressing concern that longtime elderly residents at two U.S. 1 mobile home parks are being asked to pay $350 security deposits, has asked the county consumeroffice to investigate.
The management of Elkridge Mobile Home Park in Elkridge and Midway Trailer Park in north Laurel told tenants ina two-paragraph letter July 19 that the security deposits -- the first ever collected from them -- must be paid by Dec. 1. It is necessary "due to the increase in cost incurred to the Park when a resident moves out," the letter said.
Gray said that making a security deposit retroactive, especially for tenants who have lived in the parks for decades, is "crazy."
"I do not understand the rationale behind this decision," Gray told Stephen Hannan, the county's consumer affairs director. "Residents should not have to absorb management expenses when tenants leave the mobile home park."
Carol Lyons, a spokeswoman for Fred Newberger, owner of the 115-unit park in north Laurel and the 72-unit park in Elkridge,said the company attorney recommended the security deposit request. The parks were collecting deposits from people moving in, Lyons said, "and our attorney said that if we were charging one person, it wasn't fair not to charge everyone."
The security deposits are needed, Lyons said, because people moving out sometimes leave "two or threedays of trash on the grounds." Most mobile home park residents own their homes but rent their lots.
Also, Lyons said, some people witholder homes simply abandon them when they leave, forcing the park owner to get rid of them at his own expense. Problems with non-payment of rent also made the security deposit necessary, she said.
"The $350 is just a drop in the bucket," Lyons said. "It does not cover costs, but it helps. All the mobile home parks I know are charging them."
By law, a security deposit must be held in an escrow account, where it accrues simple interest of 4 percent. The deposit plus interest must be returned within 45 days after the tenant leaves, unless thelandlord finds damages beyond normal wear and tear.
Landlords canrequire a security deposit of $50 or twice the monthly rent, whichever is greater. Rents at the Elkridge and Midway parks range from $305to$349, Lyons said.
Lyons said -- but the management letter did not -- that tenants do not have to pay the deposit in one lump sum andcan make payments between now and Dec. 1.
Some older tenants in the parks, whose only income is a Social Security check, said they have very little money after paying the monthly rent. They voiced their concerns clandestinely, fearing eviction from the parks.
"It's unheard of -- I can't understand it," one elderly tenant said of the security deposit. Management "owns nothing but the ground. We have a homeowners association, but our secretary has already paid her $350, so what can you do?"
"There are many young people moving in with $40,00 mobile homes," another elderly tenant said. "They have two people in the family working and can afford the deposit. A lot of us have only $100 left over each month for out-of-pocket expenses. If we don't pay the money, they won't renew our lease. It's just too much too fast. I don't know what I'm going to do."
Gray said he worries about that also. He said the security deposit could foreshadow a rent increase. To avoid such a situation, he said, he's looking at the possibility of creating a mobile home cooperative aided by federal, state andcounty money that would help mobile home owners buy the land.
"Then, they wouldn't always be in such uncertainty," Gray said. "Now, they are at the mercy of property owners."