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Pine Valley residents attend a hearing of the Rent Control Board. They successfully petitioned the board to reduce their rent.
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Joseph Kelleher of Kraus & Hummel, representing Morgan Management, speaks to the board.

Cheshire Rent Control Board Lowers Pine Valley Rent

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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The Selectmen, sitting as the Rent Control Board, deferred a second petition asking for a larger rent decrease based on a court case.  
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Rent Control Board granted Pine Valley Mobile Home Park residents a $5.12 monthly rent decrease to compensate for unpaved park roads. 
 
The Selectmen, acting as the Rent Control Board, voted to decrease the mobile home park residents' rent from $275.46 to $270.34 on Thursday and wished park owners Morgan Management good riddance.
 
"We all understand that roads down there are in horrible condition, we all understand that Morgan Management reneged on their petition to repave the roads," Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said. "That is why we did what we had to do to return to you the money that is owed to you … hopefully, Morgan Management sells the park."
 
The Rent Control Board in 2016 approved a $7.20 monthly rent increase, $5.12 of which was to go toward repairing and repaving roads that were torn up during the installation of a new septic system.
 
This never happened, and the roads have continued to deteriorate. Residents have also complained of unresponsiveness on Morgan Management's part.
 
Morgan Management is attempting to sell the park and Joseph Kelleher of Kraus & Hummel, representing Morgan Management, had no qualms with the decrease. He said they have been unable to pave the roads because of septic issues. He said it would be counterintuitive to dig up a freshly paved road to make these repairs.
 
Kelleher also said he was unable to speak to the possible $1.7 million sale of the park.
 
Kelleher had a spreadsheet outlining the more than $8,000 that has been collected thus far in rent to pave the roads that is too be reimbursed.
 
The Rent Control Board was still frustrated that Morgan Management did not follow through on what it promised.
 
"We proceeded in good faith. The road down there is a disgusting and a mess. It is a wonder more cars have not been damaged," Francesconi said. "When we give the rent increase for a specific purpose we don't expect you to come back in three years saying you changed your mind."
 
The Rent Control Board also looked at a rent adjustment petition that asks for an $18.25 monthly rent decrease.
 
The reduction is representative of a recent court ruling that found a 2011 rent increase Morgan Management asked for the septic system was illegal.
 
The petition claimed that although this increase was found to be illegal, the tenants were still paying it.
 
Kelleher said the petition is a misunderstanding and that Rent Control Board had already reset the rent in 2016. He said walking this back would dismantle the settlement.
 
"This was an issue that was resolved in litigation … It was negotiated and settled so if you want to go back that would be a classic double dipping," he said. "I would have to seek to revoke or undo that settlement because part of the money that is being paid in that settlement include that figure. This would turn the head on four years of litigation." 
 
He added that he contacted the tenants' attorneys and they are on the same page. He said he wished the attorney was present at the meeting to explain the misunderstanding.
 
Selectman Robert Ciskowski agreed with Kelleher and noted that when the board adjusted the rent in 2016, it completely rebuilt the rent using its own equation and the $18.25 was not even factored into the increase.
 
"We didn't take the previous rent and base the increase on that we started from scratch … the old rent almost dropped out because we used new figures," Ciskowski said. "I tend to agree with him about the $18.25. It didn't really factor in."
 
The at first suspicious Rent Control Board eventually denied the petition. Without the totality of the legal documents from the settlement, members felt there was not enough evidence.
 
They also felt that any court judgment was outside of their purview.
 
Ciskowski said this does not mean the tenants cannot come back with another petition. 
 
"This does not mean a petition can't be filed in the future, but we will need more documentation," he said. "What we have is just not enough for us tonight but there is no prejudice in coming back again."
 
The tenants then began to discuss a letter they received from their attorney about a sum of money that would be given back to the tenants as a rent deduction or a reimbursement if the park sold.
 
Kelleher said there is a reimbursement included in the settlement but said he had no knowledge of the letter. He reiterated that he wished the tenants' attorney was present to explain the letter.
 
The Rent Control Board stopped the conversation because it was outside of its jurisdiction.
 
"I don't think we can act upon anything that is a court ruling. That is beyond our scope," Ciskowski said. "That may be a court decision that may be pertinent of the settlement that we are not aware of."
 
The dozens of tenants present at the hearing held at the Council on Aging still had one major issue — the roads are still in awful condition.
 
Multiple tenants aired their grievances: 
 
"Why don't you fire that manager that we have there and grade the roads, so we can at least drive. He does nothing. Once a week he mows the lawn but that's it," one resident said. "Fire him and put the money into the roads. There have been too many flat tires and broken mufflers."
 
"We have incurred a lot of expense our cars and houses are having issues and when I try to contact Morgan Management they don't call back," another resident said. "This has been going on for years …my driveway is awful and my enclosed porch floods … all they care about is getting their money."
 
Some residents said they have even tried to make their own repairs to the potholes. Others feared emergency vehicles would be unable to maneuver the roads if they continue to deteriorate. 
 
Ciskowski said the town does maintain unaccepted roads for emergency vehicles and noted the park roads are still mostly passable. The town can't afford the more substantial repair needed just to regrade the roads, he said.
 
"The town keeps the lake roads open -– the dirt roads. We are not supposed to improve them, but we keep them passable for emergency vehicles," he said. "Your roads may be a concern, but they are passable even if they're on the edge."
 
Before adjourning, the Rent Control Board said it would be cautious next time it is asked to allow an increase for any project at the park.
 
"If the park is sold and they come back with a rent increase to pave the roads I will be very hesitant to allow such a project," Ciskowski said. "I would be reluctant to go out on a limb with a new owner. I don't want it to end up like it did today."

Tags: mobile home park,   rent control,   

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