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The Ridgeview Manufactured Homes Association is preparing a class action lawsuit against Cook Properties, the largest mobile home park owner in New York state, in pursuit of better living conditions. The plaintiffs want work done on their sewers, water lines, identification and removal of dead trees and electrical units around the property, as well as better plowing of snow during the winter months.
The association’s rent strike, now entering its third month, shows no sign of waning.
Attorney Sean MacKenzie, from Magavern Magavern Grimm LLP, addressed the association on June 23 and laid out his strategy for weathering the coming storm. He said that when Cook Properties realizes they are serious, the company will “come to the table” — and that means the association members have to stick together.
Noting some association members who withheld rent recently found an eviction notice on their doorstep, MacKenzie also explained the legalities behind eviction. The company must deliver 30-day notices by certified mail, not by dropoff at the tenant’s door, he said.
And, he said to a resident who was served, it is also law that upon serving the notice, Cook must wait 30 days before filing with the Newfane Town Court.
"Knowing Newfane Court the way I do, the earliest any of you would get served with eviction papers, that could end up at a hearing, is at least 75 and probably closer to 100 (days) from today (June 23)," he said.
MacKenzie counseled that the park owner’s license with the Town of Newfane could be revoked and asked them to continue to document their problems and he would approach the Town.
"The time has come to fire the first shot," he said.
The association called its first rent strike in March and ended it a month later, after Jeff Cook, the CEO of Cook Properties, pledged at a home association meeting, that his company would perform the necessary upkeep work in the park.
Then, in May, a sewer system backup pushed sewage out into some tenants’ yards. The problem persisted and was not corrected. Sandy Lees, vice president of Ridgeview MHA and one of the affected tenants, said she was informed that even a bag of lime to treat the tainted soil was “not in the budget.”
The association declared its second rent strike in May of 2022.
The rent strike and pending lawsuit are aimed at “holding (Cook Properties) accountable for the living conditions,” association president Sharon Ruth said.
In the past few weeks, the association also teamed up with MHAction, an advocacy agency for residents of manufactured housing parks, and started spreading the word at other Cook-owned properties. Since June 24, they’ve canvassed Suburban Rapids MHP, Rapids Estates – both in Lockport – and Applewood Mobile Home Park in Medina, encouraging formation of a tenant association to combat Cook and support of MHAction’s advocacy for laws to protect mobile home owners and renters.
"Park owners don't like homeowners' associations because it's people banding together," MHAction organizer Yvonne Maldonado said. "They do not want to hear any complaints."
According to Ruth, the Ridgeview association’s campaign succeeded in getting more than 150 residents in the canvassed parks to contact MacKenzie about joining the lawsuit.
She noted some examples of neglect that dwarfed Ridgeview's needs including open "sewer pits" on the property of Rapids Estates.
"Why Cook?" Ruth said, rhetorically. "Instead of buying 75 new parks, why not invest in the ones you got?"
Cook Properties acquired 54-parks in April from a deal with Affordable Great Locations (AGL), making them the largest owner of manufactured homes in New York.
In a written back-and-forth between MacKenzie and Syrica Newton, a Cook park manager, the attorney denied any harassment of the residents of those parks, saying the association and MHAction were invited into the park by the residents.
"We will continue to organize for the impending class action litigation," he wrote to Newton. "Every Cook property resident is legally protected and permitted to join without retaliation.”
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