The new owners of a Northfield mobile home community will revert to the park's previous rules and existing lease agreements after the Minnesota Attorney General's Office stepped in to protect residents from what they said were unreasonable changes that infringed on their rights.
Residents of Viking Terrace, a community of 185 homes, formed a homeowners association and spoke at a City Council meeting this month to protest the new leases and 40-page book of new regulations made by Lakeshore Management, an Illinois-based company that bought the park in April.
"Here's what we're saying: Landlords, thank you for doing the right thing, if you are," Attorney General Keith Ellison said. "But the ones who are not, we're not going to let you mistreat people. Housing is too expensive, and it's too important."
Ellison said he hopes Lakeshore has a "change of attitude" and will work collaboratively with residents.
He said reaching a resolution at Viking Terrace didn't require a lawsuit, though one would have been filed if necessary. His office is making fair, affordable housing and tenants' rights a priority, Ellison said.
The new rules at Viking Terrace included a 10 p.m. curfew and bans on laundry lines, specific dog breeds and certain lawn furniture and children's toys. Children also could not play in other residents' yards for any reason, and guests could not stay beyond 10 days.
Many of the new rules contradicted what residents had been allowed to do for years under the previous lease.
Residents said the rules were "being enforced against them aggressively" with a "threat that failure to comply could result in an eviction," the Attorney General's Office said in a news release.
Advocates and residents, who are mostly low-income and Latino, said they don't believe the struggle with Lakeshore is over.
"We're relieved ... but now it's like, what's next?" said Jorge Zuccolotto, a longtime resident and president of the homeowners association. "We're happy for the moment."
According to Minnesota law, the news release said, any new regulations at mobile home parks must be reasonable and not substantially modify existing rules. New regulations cannot take away rights or privileges that residents previously enjoyed.
In the past few months, Lakeshore has sent residents letters and photos of their properties with violations of the new rules circled in marker. Residents said the letters were intimidating, as was Lakeshore staff taking frequent, up-close photos of their properties at all hours.
The company did not respond to a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
Mar Valdecantos, a school district translator and housing advocate with Rice County Neighbors United, has said Viking Terrace's actions are part of a nationwide pattern in which companies buy mobile home parks, make some aesthetic improvements and then raise rents.
Higher rents eventually displace tenants, she said, and many leave their homes behind because they are not structurally sound enough to be moved — and other parks are not accepting new mobile homes.
Valdecantos said a Lakeshore representative will visit the community next week.
"We're looking into the next steps and how we tackle this," she said. "We remain very vigilant and not everything is going to be smooth sailing."
Even if Lakeshore reverts to its old rules, some residents may not be in compliance because they had verbal permission from the previous owner to do or have certain things, she said, such as a third parking spot.
Zuccolotto said he worries that Lakeshore will enforce unfair rules in other communities that may not be able to fight back. The company has other parks in Minnesota and in eight other states, according to its website.
He also said the company can raise rent and he believes it will do so soon. Rent has already increased $65.
"This is going to be a long journey — it's not over," Zuccolotto said. "I can see our future, and it's not great."