Sewage leaks, clogged drains, exposed wiring and countless unfinished projects continue to fill a laundry list of problems at Oak Lawn Mobile Estates in Morton.
Oak Lawn is a community of manufactured homes, commonly referred to as a ‘mobile home community’ and the residents there say their new owners – RV Horizons- have turned their lives upside down.
RV took over in February of 2018 and immediately tried to force residents – most of which are over the age of 60- to sign an illegal 48-page lease that would’ve taken away their rights and increased their rent.
On top of that, RV added a clause to the lease that would impose a daily $50 fee for every day people left the lease unsigned, along with threats of eviction.
“People have turned in their title and their keys and left” said Bob Hasty, Vice President of Oak Lawn Homeowners Association. With a grim look on his face he explained how many elderly residents felt bullied into obliging and had no other alternative. “It’s a shame. It’s not right. You’ve got people with disabilities that live here. Veterans live here.”
Hasty added things got so unbearable, a handful of residents pooled their own money to hire an attorney for a short time.
That lawyer was able to successfully argue the residents were protected under the The Mobile Home Landlord and Tenant Rights Act, which essentially acknowledges that in the state of Illinois, all manufactured home tenants have a “rolling lease” which automatically renews every year on February 1st.
Additionally, their lawyer, who later recused herself from the case because of an alleged conflict of interest, was able to keep their existing lease in tact. That allowed families to avoid paying rent hikes or sign any new lease agreements.
But things didn’t stop there. Sharon Stout, President of Oak Lawn’s HOA says RV also sent contractors out to install – what they later learned- were illegal water meters.
And with the meters, came headaches. Soon several residents began approaching her asking what could be done about skyrocketed water bills.
Stout says in the 33 years she and her husband have lived there, they’d never been responsible to pay for sewage, trash or water, but were quickly told that would be their financial responsibility. Under their lease, that role was always assumed by the property owner.
“It said I used 1800 gallons in a day. No way.” Don Wessely declared. Wessely, on the HOA’s Board of Directors, held up a bill that indicated a stark contrast of water usage.
For a single day in March of 2019, a graph chart showed Wessley used more than 3000 gallons of water, despite having never exceeded more than 80.
Other residents, frustrated after also being charged more than 10x their normal usage, asked a state plumbing inspector to step in.
It turns out, some meters were installed backwards. Stout says the inspector confirmed the meters were not only costly, but also potentially dangerous. “He said ‘ this is illegal. The meter itself is illegal. It’s not up to Illinois code. The way it’s installed is illegal’ It’s wrapped in house insulation which is illegal because it’s a fire hazard.” Stout shared.
Residents say what was once a beautiful community filled with 551 well kept lots, has deteriorated to a gloomy, fragmented complex of 410.
Another resident pointed out yet another problem – standing water that she says was left behind from several unfinished projects. That same water, she described as smelly and home to mosquitos and gnats.
Still, the nightmare continues. Some of the same workers who left those projects unattended, also left wiring exposed and surrounded by water, neglected to fix clogged drains or address sewage leaks.
Illinois Department of Public Health regulates all mobile home parks in Illinois and Stout says they have stepped in to help. Recently they ordered a cease and desist for those non-licensed plumbers, but still, residents say many issues persist and the oversight is inconsistent.
Residents say they continue to beg the Village of Morton, Public Works, and city and state lawmakers for help.
“They know that a lot of people can’t afford a high priced lawyer to fight against him so they’re scared and stuck.” Wessely said, while also saying that’s exactly the reason he and the other Oak Lawn board members plan to continue fighting.
They want the owners of the property to know they’ve done their research, they know their rights and they won’t stand for anything that deviates from either.
Meanwhile RV Horizons has been tough to reach. 25 News left multiple, unanswered messages for the contact numbers associated with their company online, but three out of the five we found, were out of service.
Owners Frank Rolfe and Dave Reynolds are both millionaires investors who flip mobile home parks and share tutorials online. In one article quoting a tutorial Reynolds states “If you have a 100-space mobile home park and raise the rent $50 per month, the increase in net cash flow is $60,000 per year, just in that one attack plan,” It also describes how residents who work low-income jobs can handle rents up to $500 a month, and because mobile homes cost thousands of dollars to move, residents have little option but to stay.”
Oak Lawn residents say they would be grateful for any help and welcome the assistance of any lawyer who could advise them.