The man they blame is Sam Zell, the property mogul who is the largest landlord of mobile homes in the US. He styles himself as a “grave dancer” for his business habit of buying up distressed assets, and serves as chairman of the board of Equity Lifestyle Properties (ELS), which owns Down Yonder and more than 400 other mobile home parks across the US. Residents at other ELS properties across the country tell the Guardian that they have raised similar complaints.
Colleen Gartner gets ready at her home at Down Yonder mobile home park in Largo, Florida. Gartner is on a fixed income as she cannot work due spinal issues that she’s had multiple surgeries for.
“We’re withholding our lot rent because it’s the only voice we have and it’s the only thing Sam Zell pays attention to: money,” Gartner said. And she plans to keep doing it until Zell and ELS “do something for us that they’re contracted to do, which is to take care of us. That’s why we moved here. It’s why we put our lives and safety in their hands. They told us they had our back. They don’t.”
Equity Lifestyle Properties denied all allegations of lack of maintenance and upkeep, and characterizations of its property managers as harassing residents. It has filed eviction notices against the three residents at Down Yonder for failure to pay rent. “We are confident that the community is in full compliance of the Florida Mobile Home Act,” which mandates that landlords must take good care of their properties, it said.
For the 10.5 million Americans who live in mobile home parks, properties like Down Yonder promise affordability, especially in high-rent areas such as Tampa, and a greater sense of permanence than renting.
The average sale price of a new mobile home as of January 2023 was $128,300, compared with the average sale price of a house of $400,600 in February 2022. On top of this, mobile home owners typically pay to lease the land – typically for under $1,000 a month – on which their property sits.
This is especially appealing to one demographic: about a third of mobile home residents are seniors, and they tend to be lower-income than other older Americans.