Hedge funds vs. homeowners: Entire mobile home parks are being bought by investors

ORLANDO, Fla. — An Orange County woman fears she will be evicted from her own home and the community that she has lived in for 30 years.

Thousands of owners just like her face the same fate as investment companies buy mobile home parks at record rates.

As Action 9′s Todd Ulrich reports, the big rent increases that follow hurt the homeowners who can least afford it.

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It is an aging mobile home park east of Orlando that has seen better days. But to Linda Lasure, the Big Oaks Mobile Home Park has been her refuge -- a place where she can afford to live.

“It might look like junk to other people, but to me, it’s mine,” she said. “I own it.”

That is all changing because of Wall Street investors 1,000 miles away.

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A private equity company bought the property, ending Lasure’s very affordable housing almost overnight.

Residents received a 90-day rent increase notice from the park’s new owner, Big Oaks MHP LLC.

Lasure’s monthly rent for the land beneath her home that she owns jumped almost 60% -- from $440 a month to almost $700.

“It was, like, oh, my god, where is the money coming from?” she said. “I can’t afford to fix the car.”

Lasure said she has been priced out of the park.

Her son posted a GoFundMe page to help his mother, who expects to receive an eviction notice any day.

Lasure, who is confined to her home, receives oxygen 24/7 because of a medical emergency several months ago.

“It’s really hard -- especially knowing that I died a few months ago and the doctor brought me back, she said. “For what? To be evicted? To be homeless?”

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many housing experts say private equity firms and other investors are on a mobile home park buying spree to turn quick profits.

“Some of these communities have a target on their back, don’t they?” Ulrich said.

“This is happening across the country, Todd -- private equity firms acquiring mobile home parks,” said Paul Bradly, who runs ROC USA, a nonprofit that helps communities buy their mobile home parks to avoid private equity ownership and runaway rent hikes.

Many housing experts said that since the pandemic, an explosive market made these parks attractive buys, using federally subsidized low-interest loans as payment.

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Investors are bidding up prices aggressively to buy properties, and those soaring prices for the property then fuel even higher rents in the parks.

“It’s really hard when you’re 74 years old,” Lasure said. “I’ve never been evicted.”

Action 9 checked county records and learned that the park’s new owner has the same corporate address as Smith Management LLC, which is part of Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund well known for buying distressed properties and slashing budgets.

The company owns at least 20 other mobile home businesses in the state.

Neither Big Oaks MHP LLC nor Smith Management LLC returned Action 9′s phone calls.

“To force somebody to pay extra rent or force them out of their home, I think, is wrong,” she said. “God didn’t put us on this Earth to go through that crap.”

There are no rent control protections. Higher rent drives down resale value, and moving a mobile home can cost more than $10,000.

Big Oaks MHP LLC did offer to buy homes from owners who cannot afford the higher rent.

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Jason Kelly

Jason Kelly, WFTV.com

Jason Kelly joined WFTV in 2014.

Todd Ulrich

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.