‘Where did my money go?’
Homes of America’s ‘eviction mill’ continued
This is part two of a two-part series about evictions at local mobile home parks.
Steven Edmund had lived in a home he owned in the Western Village mobile home community for seven years when Homes of America bought the community at the end of 2021. At court on Feb. 21, Edmund was one of three HOA renters facing forcible detainers that afternoon, but he was the only one to show up.
These three hearings are among 30 such proceedings initiated by the New Jersey-based company since the end of 2022. Edmund didn’t have to wait long for the court to plow through all the other hearings on the docket ahead of them. The other HOA hearings proceeded formally since the defendant in either case was not present. The first ended with HOA awarded a judgment of more than $10,000 along with an order to evict, while the other hearing was canceled and dismissed by HOA.
During his eviction hearing before Judge Todd Cresap, Edmund testified that after receiving the three-day notice from HOA, he struggled to get a response from management by phone, email or to catch Property Manager Stephanie Munos at the office located in Parkview. State law requires mobile home parks to have a physical office that is staffed and available for community residents that is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
“I don’t know why I owe this money. I’ve made every payment for the last seven years. I can’t get ahold of the office. I called her after the three-day vacate, but there was no one at the office. No one ever answers the phone,” Edmund testified.
When the court asked Edmund if he had any documents to prove his payments, he said he did not, with the only proof of payment offered by Homes of America for two canceled checks from the summer of 2022. Edmund indicated that he probably had access to documents to prove the check payments but did not know how to get ahold of receipts for rent payments made by money order.
“She says she tried to call me. That didn’t happen. Money order or check was the only way they would take it. They had me put it in an envelope and put it in a mailbox. I don’t know what happened to it,” Edmund said.
Munos then took the stand and testified that Edmund owed past due rent and related fees in the amount of $5,398.92. Munos said there had been some confusion over who owned the home and whether HOA had a lease with Edmund or with his son. In the year since HOA bought the Minot communities, nearly all of the residents are on month-to-month arrangements under rental agreements with the prior management companies Oakland Communities and On Point Management.
When there were further discrepancies in the amount of rent that Edmund allegedly owed, Cresap pressed Munos on why her employer had allowed Edmund to remain on the property for so long without a current lease, despite being so behind.
“The parks were mismanaged. I’m cleaning up a mess,” Munos testified. “Someone is now holding these people accountable.”
For Edmund, this admission was one that undermined the case being made against him.
“Who mismanaged the money in the months in question? Where did my money go? I’m not the only one,” Edmund said. “Someone mismanaged my money. I’m baffled why it got this far.”
Unfortunately for Edmund, there wasn’t much the court could do in his situation. Cresap said that while he didn’t have confidence in the amounts that Homes of America was saying Edmund owed, he still granted an order to evict. HOA won damages of $1,380, covering unpaid rent in January 2023 and attorney’s fees, giving Edmund five days to move his home and belongings.
Whether he’d be able to find a place to take it or had the means to pay for the move in the North Dakota winter were questions for which he had no certain answers.
“My daughter is turning 5 tomorrow, so we’ll have a party, and then I’ll have to figure something out. I planned on staying another 13 years there. Not now,” Edmund said after the hearing. “Companies are saying it would cost around $3,000 to move it. The ground is pretty frozen out there.”
Ultimately, Edmund was not able to have his home moved before the deadline, with winter weather making it too difficult or cost prohibitive to relocate to another community in Minot. Other Homes of America residents seeking refuge in other communities are being told the cost to move could be as high as $10,000, depending on the circumstances.
“I did get most of my belongings out, took off work this morning to get the last load. I’m renting a friend’s basement until I can find something better. This is all a blessing in disguise,” said Edmund.
Edmund’s allegations of mismanaged rent payments were not under the purview of the eviction hearing that day but are relevant given the admissions of mismanagement by Munos and other HOA employees. Trina Vannoy is a former employee of HOA from Fenton, Missouri, who lives in the community she used to manage. Vannoy said based on her experience working for the company, it isn’t that shocking that rent payments might have slipped through the cracks.
“After they took over, they shut down the rent portal and took away most of the office equipment. Most people had to pay with personal check, and then I’d bundle them up and ship them by Fed Ex to New Jersey,” Vannoy said. “I’d get calls from someone at corporate who received the checks. He didn’t know what property they applied to, and I’d have to help him figure it out. When I quit, the office was empty, so there was no one there to clarify and help him piece together who was paying what. He was calling me for help even after I quit.”
The HOA community in Fenton, Ravinia Estates, is seeing a similar rollout of notices to quit. Homes of America is in the process of shutting down and liquidating the office and its contents located in the community, including the titles to some of the homes owned by tenants. Both Ravinia and the Minot communities also have received notice recently that renters will now be responsible for water and other fees that are covered by the pad rent in the last active lease agreements they signed with the prior property managers.
According to multiple HOA renters in Minot, many of them did not receive any notice of these changes before they started receiving statements from a company called Zego that will be processing those utility charges. Some residents have been told by management that letters were supposed to have been sent out by one of Munos’ predecessors, but few have acknowledged they received it. Some of the notices received by tenants were dated Jan. 27 while others were dated Feb. 21. None of the notices were signed and were printed without a letterhead or contact information for the sender.
Based on a copy of the notice provided to The Minot Daily News, Homes of America’s residents will now pay an equally split, pro-rata share of the total community bill, as well as an administrative fee of $5.50. According to the North Dakata Century Code, owners of mobile home parks may include water and sewer services in the tenant’s pad rent or bill them as a separate charge based on actual usage. An owner may not charge a tenant more than the actual cost per unit amount paid by the landlord to the utility service provider, except for an administrative fee that doesn’t exceed three dollars. An owner may charge a tenant a reasonable amount to cover an increase in cost, but in that instance the owner must provide tenants records of meter readings taken at the individual tenant’s lot.
Munos declined to comment on the record for this story, but did testify that Homes of America had gone through three managers prior to her employment. Of those, former Minot managers contacted by The Minot Daily News, none have agreed to speak about their experiences on the record. All attempts to contact Homes of America’s corporate office and its CEO, Bryon Fields Jr., were not responded to.