More than 100 residents at two mobile home parks in Auburn have filed a class action lawsuit against the parks’ owner, alleging it’s exploiting them and violating their state protections.

Lawyers representing the tenants — who are seniors or on fixed incomes due to disabilities — argue that Massachusetts has a strict law to shield mobile home residents from rents that exceed federal estimates of local rental prices, known as fair market rents. The regulations also mandate that park owners offer tenants five-year leases and disclose all other fees and rules governing their communities.

But in their filing in Worcester Superior Court Tuesday, the residents at American Mobile Home Park and Whispering Pines Estates argue that the owner, Parakeet Communities, is blatantly infringing on those protections. The financial toll has been so severe that families have had to create a neighborhood food bank, and some tenants fear losing their homes.

“Parakeet has made life a living nightmare for me and my fellow residents,” Amy Case, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

Many of the mobile home residents pay Parakeet rent for the plot on which their home sits. Although “mobile home” implies that the units can be moved, doing so can be prohibitively expensive. Other residents lease units from Parakeet.

The Maryland-based company owns dozens of mobile home parks across the country, including two others in Massachusetts. In response to the lawsuit, Robert Kraus — an attorney for Parakeet — told GBH News the company has worked to accommodate families at both mobile home parks, including hiring a new management team to improve living experiences.

Kraus also argued that the state protections for mobile home residents don’t apply to people who are renting their units from Parakeet, and disputed that the company is raising rents beyond fair market levels.

“Rents do go up. I don’t have to tell you what inflation and COVID did to the rental market,” Kraus said. “If you look at the rental market in a place like Monson or Auburn and you try to find a comparable rental space … surely it’ll be more expensive than what they’re paying at the respective manufactured housing community.”

Mobile home parks have long been a source of affordable housing, especially for people who are older or on fixed incomes. But in recent years, big companies have been swooping in to buy the parks and increase rents.

Jacob Love, an attorney representing the mobile home tenants, said what Parakeet is doing fits that mold. The company purchased the parks in 2022. The lawsuit alleges Parakeet has raised some people’s rent by more than $300, to levels exceeding fair market prices, and limited new leases to one-year terms instead of the five-year minimum Massachusetts requires. The lawsuit alleges that the unequal rent hikes also violate state mandates that rental increases are uniform across a mobile home park.

Love added that Parakeet deceives residents to induce them into signing unfavorable leases. He pointed to lease offers stating in all caps that rents will remain the same — even though other parts of the offers noted that the rates are increasing.

“The conflicting information was designed to create confusion and muddy the waters,” said Love, who’s with the Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights. “It’s clear that Parakeet’s only intention here was to raise rents immediately to reap financial rewards as quickly as possible. And in their hurry to do that, they intentionally have misled the tenants and failed to comply with legal requirements.”

Kraus, Parakeet’s attorney, denied the company is withholding information from tenants.

The plaintiffs noted that they previously sought to resolve the dispute with Parakeet, sending letters to the company on two separate occasions this year. But the plaintiff’s lawyers said the company has argued it’s not violating state law and has now begun eviction proceedings against some residents. That’s left tenants with no choice but to sue.

As part of the lawsuit, Love said his clients are seeking financial compensation for the damages they’ve faced. They also want the court to force Parakeet to begin complying with all state regulations.

“We deserve to be treated with fairness and respect and brought this case to secure our legal rights,” Case said.

Updated: July 03, 2024
This story was updated to include a response from Parakeet Communities' attorney Robert Kraus.