A company that has been buying mobile home parks across the country has purchased one in Southwest Virginia, and some of the tenants are being asked to leave, or asked to pay unexpected charges.
Many residents of a Montgomery County mobile home park, which has been purchased by a company linked to hedge fund Alden Global Capital, have received notices to vacate, or notices to face eviction unless back charges are paid. Some of the tenants are disputing the charges. A tenants’ meeting has been scheduled for Saturday at Belview United Methodist Church, according to a tenant organizer.
Massie Mobile Home Park, located at 2834 Peppers Ferry Road, totals 45.3 acres. According to online county records, on Aug. 4, Billy D. Massie sold Massie Mobile Home Park to Massie MHP LLC for $10 million. It was not clear whether this amount was for the land and buildings or just the land.
A legally required notice dated April 11, 2022, that was signed by Billy D. Massie and addressed to park tenants and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development states that Billy D. and Ruth Massie had accepted an offer of $16.85 million for the property. The name of the purchaser is not specified.
It’s wasn’t clear Wednesday why the two documents cited different purchase prices.
The total assessed value of the land and buildings is $2,634,900 according to county records.
The new owner is listed in county records as Massie MHP LLC, care of Homes of America LLC, care of Tom Del Bosco, located in Englewood, New Jersey.
A 2008 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission notice of sale of securities, found online, identified Alden Global Capital as a division of Smith Management LLC. Thomas Del Bosco and Randall Smith are listed among the executive officers of Alden.
LinkedIn lists Tom Del Bosco as a CPA who is executive vice president and chief financial officer at Smith Management LLC.
On LinkedIn, Bryon Fields Jr. is identified as chief operating officer of Homes of America. According to his online resume, he was a four-year starter on the Duke football team who graduated in 2017. He interned at Alden in 2017.
Sarah Rupp is an aide at Belview Elementary School and an organizer with New River Tenants Union. She said she became involved with Massie’s tenants when the grandmother of a Belview student found what she thought was an eviction notice taped to her front porch.
“And when you look at the letter, it’s not an eviction letter, it’s a notice to quit,” Rupp said. “And it said, you basically have to pay up … $700 by Oct. 28, or you will be evicted. And she didn’t owe any money. She had been paying all of her rent on time.” The next day, another aide told Rupp that three other students’ families had also received similar notices.
Rupp provided Cardinal News with two documents. One is a “Notice to Quit” that requires the tenant to vacate the premises within 30 days due to an “incurable lease violation” described as an account delinquency of $20.
Another tenant received a “Material Noncompliance Notice For Failure To Pay Rent” stating that the tenant owed $713.49 in rent for the period Aug. 1 to Oct. 18. The tenant was given five days to pay in full or face termination of the lease.
Mobile home parks where tenants own their homes and rent their lots are under different regulations than parks where the landlord owns both the lots and the homes, said Ross Hart, an attorney with Hart & Hart in Salem. In the latter case, the law basically follows the apartment model.
A pay or quit notice gives the tenant one last chance to pay overdue rent before being evicted, said Justin Simmons, an attorney with Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black in Roanoke. There can be other reasons for evicting tenants, such as dealing drugs or creating a nuisance, but a pay or quit notice deals specifically with non-payment of rent.
Pay or quit isn’t the only way to get rid of a tenant. If a tenant has stayed on past the duration of a written lease and a landlord wants him out, the landlord “can just say the lease is terminated,” Simmons said. “If it qualifies under the Virginia residential landlord-tenant act and converts to a month-to-month, they can give them 30 days’ notice that the lease will terminate at the end of the 30 days and they have to get out.”
Roy McGlothlin lives in a rented trailer with his fiancee and her daughter. He said all the residents he knows rent their trailers, rather than owning them.
McGlothlin said he paid his October rent with a $750 money order, and later that month received a notice to pay an additional amount. “And it was for like, $713.49. Some really oddball amount.”
McGlothlin said he called MoneyGram, which issued the money order for his October rent, to find out if it had been cashed. It had, he said.
Rachel Muse, reached at the park office, confirmed that she was the park manager but said she could not answer any questions, nor could she refer a caller to anyone who could.
Rupp said there are some sections of the park where everyone got a notice to quit, and other sections where few people received the notices. She said the notices had mostly gone to people who had paid with money orders, and to those who receive housing assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
It’s unclear how many tenants are actually in arrears, or whether any of the notices have resulted from payments going astray due to the change in ownership. Also unclear are Homes of America’s long-term plans for the property.
The location on Peppers Ferry Road is between Uptown Christiansburg (formerly New River Valley Mall) and the Radford Army Ammunition Plant.
Homes of America has purchased other mobile home parks around the country in recent years.
The Minot (North Dakota) Daily News reported on Sept. 6 that a local mobile home park was purchased at the end of 2021 by two entities incorporated in Delaware and New Jersey, both sharing a parent company: Homes of America. Some residents received notices on Sept. 1 that their lot rent would increase by more than 50% as of Oct. 1.
The Florida news website clickorlando.com on Aug. 31 reported that residents of Lakeside Village mobile home park in DeLand were facing a 52% rent increase, and that the property is owned by Homes of America LLC.
On Sept. 16, KTBS in Louisiana reported that Homes of America, the new owner of Forest Estates in Shreveport, was hiking the rent for lots from $265 to $525. A resident estimated about 300 of the park’s residents owned their manufactured homes in the park, which has 800 lots.
Cardinal News left a message on Bryon Fields’ voice mail and also emailed him questions about Homes of America’s long-term plans for the Montgomery County property, why Homes of America was willing to pay so much more than the assessed value, Homes of America’s relationship with Alden, and if in fact residents who receive HUD assistance or pay with money orders are the ones receiving the notices to quit — and if so, why. Fields had not replied as of Wednesday evening.
According to an SEC document posted online, Alden Global Emerging Markets Fund I Ltd. was incorporated in the Cayman Islands in 2007. A message was left on a New York phone number listed on that document, but no reply had been received by Wednesday evening.
Alden’s website consists of a single photo — sunlight streaming through a forest — and the statement “Alden Global Capital is an investment manager based in West Palm Beach, FL.”
According to “60 Minutes,” which in February reported on the struggling state of the newspaper industry, Alden Global Capital owns more than 200 newspapers. It has cut staff at newspapers around the country in order to boost profits. In Virginia, Alden owns the Norfolk-based Virginian-Pilot, and the Daily Press, based in Newport News.
Alden made the news in Southwest Virginia in 2021 when it attempted to wrest control of the Iowa-based Lee Enterprises, whose newspaper properties include the daily newspapers in Bristol, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Danville, Fredericksburg, Martinsville, Richmond, Roanoke and Waynesboro. Lee fought off the hostile takeover.
While Fields and Del Bosco have or had roles in both Homes of America and Alden, online searching did not find evidence that Homes of America is a subsidiary of Alden.
No one at Homes of America could be reached to talk about the future of Massie. But other mobile home parks around the country are being bought up by corporations, said Hart.
“Mobile home parks are turning out to be cash cows, and investors are going into them,” Hart said. “They’re treating them like an investment instead of housing for people who need it. They’re seeing an opportunity to … upscale them a bit and take in decent money. You got a piece of land, you develop it with pads for mobile homes. The people put their own mobile home there and rent the space. So you don’t have mobile home maintenance. You don’t have to fix the dishwasher. You don’t have to fix the leaky kitchen. You don’t have to fix the heating or air conditioning, when it goes on the fritz. All you have to do is have a dependable supply of water, electricity and maybe cut the grass around them. It’s a cash cow, if it is operated properly. And that’s what these investors are looking for.”
Attempts were made to contact Sherri Blevins, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors and supervisor for the district that includes the Belview area. A message was also left for an attorney at Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society.
According to Rupp, a tenants’ meeting will be held 5 p.m. Saturday at Belview United Methodist Church, and a Legal Aid representative will be there. Attempts to reach the church for confirmation were not successful.