In 2008, Maria Rodriguez finished paying for the mobile home she lives in at Las Americas, a trailer park near downtown Cary. Five years, thousands of dollars in property taxes, and $2,800 in lawyer’s fees later, she finally obtained the title to her trailer.
Epifania Basilio López paid off her $20,000 trailer in March 2016 but has not received her title from Mobile Estates, the company that owns the trailer park. Same with José Carmen Rodriguez, whose final bill of sale shows that he finished paying for his trailer in August 2011.
“At the beginning, [a Mobile Estates manager] told me I had to go to the DMV,” Basilio López told the INDY through a translator. “Then, they just started giving me pretexts because they didn’t show up when I wanted to go talk to them, and they just gave me excuses. Then they told me, because I didn’t have a driver’s license, I’d have to find someone who did to transfer the title to. My son has a license but they told me the condition was I would have to pay them another $1,500 in order for them to transfer the title to my son.”
Dozens of the 300 families who live in Mobile Estates—known as Las Americas—located off Southeast Maynard Road near the upcoming Fenton development in east Cary, say they are awaiting titles to trailers they have paid for. According to state law, trailers must be registered with the DMV.
Over a year ago, residents and activists approached the state attorney general’s office to request an investigation into the missing titles and accounting issues associated with the trailer park’s operations.
Nazneen Ahmed, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said the office began investigating Mobile Estates in December 2019.
“During the course of the investigation, we’ve been in touch with the park’s counsel on multiple occasions to make the park aware of our concerns and to encourage it to resolve title issues,” Ahmed wrote. “The park represents to us that it has resolved a few of the title issues.”
An October 2020 letter from Daniel Mosteller, a deputy attorney general from the Consumer Protection Division, states that 20 titles are “in progress of being distributed out to Las Americas residents,” according to information he received.
As of now, says Sandra Bueno, an organizer with One Wake—a “non-partisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue group of churches, associations and other nonprofits”—who is working with the residents, at least 57 families still are awaiting their titles.
Bern Bullard, a realtor at Cary-based firm Fonville Morisey Lochmere, owns Mobile Estates, according to documents filed with the secretary of state’s office. He also owns MECO Utilities, which supplies water to the residents of the 42-acre park who have been paying $360 a month to rent lots from Mobile Estates.
Bullard did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment, including a question about how many titles have been supplied to homeowners since the attorney general’s office got involved.
Residents and organizers, including Bueno, say the missing titles are not the only problems at Las Americas. At a virtual protest last month, residents complained of issues at the park ranging from water shutoffs and unexplained hikes in water bills, to fines for parking, for having pets, and for gathering with neighbors, to targeted harassment from the park’s managers.
When reached by phone Monday, Mobile Estates’ longtime general manager Osvaldo Bastida told the INDY he had no comment.
Paula Tito’s water bill normally averages around $150 per month, according to records she shared with the INDY. But, in October, she was shocked to receive a water bill of $344.31. The park’s manager, she says, told her she had a leak but refused to fix it. Tito said her husband changed the pipe himself but the next month, they received a bill of $457.98.
“In the middle of this pandemic, [MECO Utilities] has exaggerated with the water bill,” Tito wrote in a testimonial sent to the INDY. “Personally, I have had very high bills when I am hardly at home.”
Las Americas homeowners, including Lopez and another woman, Rosa Martinez, said they and eight other women were illegally threatened with eviction.
The INDY viewed a September 2019 letter from Mobile Estates that gives notice that the land the residents rented at the park was not up for renewal and that they would need to vacate the premises within six days. The women took the letter to the Wake County Register of Deeds’ office and learned that the notice was not valid to legally evict them.
Residents are wary of further fines and eviction threats.
On March 1, Mobile Estates sent to the mostly Spanish-speaking residents a notice of termination of their previous leases and a new 19-page lease agreement, written in English, that raises rent for land at the park by $40, to $400 per month. If any residents refuse to sign the new contract, it states, they will have to pay a month-to-month rate of $475. The contract came with three pages outlining violations and their associated fines, including a $50 fine for barking dogs, a minimum $25 fine for “parking incorrectly,” a $100 fine for noise violations, and a minimum $25 fine for gathering around the central mailboxes.
In a March 26 letter to Bullard, Jonathan Patton, an attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center, wrote that North Carolina law mandates that termination of an existing lease requires 60 days’ notice; Mobile Estates gave only 30 days’ notice. Further, the letter states, Mobile Estates failed to provide tenants copies of the existing lease contracts when they requested them. The letter asks that Mobile Estates rescind the lease termination letter it sent to residents and not let the rent increase go into effect. It also asks the company to provide the original lease agreement to tenants.
Patton told the INDY he has not received a response to the letter from Bullard or other Mobile Estates representatives.
Some families, not wanting to pay an additional $75 in rent each month, went ahead and signed the new lease contract anyway.
“I feel like I live in a depression right now,” says José Rodriguez, one of the owners awaiting his property title. “You can’t do anything. If you do something wrong, they charge you $25, $100. I already signed the contract because they told me if I don’t, I have to pay an extra $75 this month. There’s no other way. So, we signed a couple of days ago and I already paid my rent.”
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