They had $20M to buy their own mobile home park in Aurora. It wasn’t enough. Now they’re suing.

5 min. read
Denver Meadows R.V. Park, Aurora. Feb. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) mobile home park; trailer park; denver meadows; aurora; residential real estate; denverite; colorado; kevinjbeaty;

Denver Meadows, Aurora. Feb. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

More than 300 people in Aurora have lived for nearly two years with the knowledge that they will be forced from their homes by June 30, 2018.

That is when the mobile-home park Denver Meadows is set to close. Its owner, Shawn Lustigman, hasn't said what he wants to do with the place. He could sell it or he could redevelop it -- either way, he said, the place is closing.

This fall, though, the residents got a hint of hope -- a $20.5 million hint.

They had a chance to buy the park.

For months, management had insisted that it would not sell to residents, according to Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, an organizer with 9to5 Colorado. Lustigman previously told us that it was insulting that residents would think they could buy the park.

The residents wouldn't take no for an answer. Working with 9to5, they flooded the owners' properties with mail and protested outside the offices, Chiriboga-Flor said.

"They finally got really sick of what we were doing. They said 'We are willing to come to the table ... and discuss an offer,'" she said.

The nonprofit Thistle offered $20.5 million for 20.4 acres of land in October on behalf of the residents, according to an offer letter provided by Chiriboga-Flor.

"We thought it was exorbitantly over (market rate) for a mobile home park," said Mary Duvall, chief executive of Thistle.

Thistle had pulled together a package of long-term debt to finance the deal, organizers said. If it worked, the residents would own and manage the community -- a model that Thistle's partner organization, the national nonprofit ROC USA (Resident-Owned Communities), has facilitated at more than 200 communities around the country.

"We don’t lose our homes and they still get a multimillion deal out of this, and still have more money than they could ever know what to do with," said Petra Bennett, 50, a Denver Meadows resident of 17 years.

One problem:

Management reportedly said no. They wanted $27 million for 10 acres, per Mike Bullard of ROC USA.

"When she said, 'No,' my hopes went down, totally," said Brenda Gutierrez, 32, a professional apartment painter and a mother of four. "I don’t have the income to move my mobile home."

It's unclear why the deal fell through. The organizers have no idea whether Lustigman has a counter-offer or other plans, they said. The owner's attorney didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

"If you just did it on a per-unit basis, it's just a ridiculous amount of money," Duvall said of Thistle's offer. The owners, she said, might have assumed they could do better selling the lot for redevelopment. "That remains to be seen," she added.

The park stands near the R Line amid new apartment buildings, offices and hotel rooms, while the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center is expanding nearby, making the land potentially valuable.

A Denver Meadows manager in her golf cart, May 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Now, they're suing.

Residents have alleged that management is making it more difficult to stay in the park through its final months. So, with time running low, they've stepped up the pressure themselves.

The residents, working with 9to5, recruited attorney Kathleen Byrne to their case. Byrne previously won a settlement from a Boulder mobile park owner.

The lawsuit, filed in Adams County, alleges that management unsafely handled the demolition of vacant mobile homes, failing to get proper permits or an asbestos inspection. It also alleges a "pattern of abuse, harassment, and retaliatory behavior."

The lawsuit alleges that management threatened residents with eviction if they participated in homeowner association meeting. A manager entered residents' lots "for purposes of looking into their homes," the lawsuit states, and trimmed vegetation "so that the view ... into the homes would not be obscured."

The lawsuit also cites rent increases and a new $90-per-month charge for vehicle parking. The new parking charge should have come with a 60-day notice under the Colorado Mobile Home Park Act, the suit argues.

Finally, it notes that the defendants have threatened to charge residents $40 per day if they leave their homes in their lot. That's an issue because it can cost more than $10,000 to move an older home, residents said.

"A lot of families that moved into our park used to buy relatively old mobile homes," Bennett said. "They stuck their personal money into it to upgrade the electric, upgrade the inside. They can’t be moved. These houses are there to stay."

The lawsuit seeks the return of money from parking charges and an end to the various alleged behaviors.  Fourteen plaintiffs are listed, plus their homeowners association.

Residents at a Denver Meadows community meeting, July 6, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
What's next:

Bennett said that she joined the lawsuit to end the alleged harassment.

"Laying down, taking it, taking it, taking it — you get to a point that you can’t take it any more," Bennett said.  "What I hope out of this lawsuit is, No. 1, a little bit of relief -- even if I have peace for the last four months that we’re going to be in this park."

But the organizers still hope to strike a deal to buy part of the park, too.

"We're not trying to get this for free. We’re not trying to get a discount. We’re just hoping that maybe he’ll give up," said Chiriboga-Flor. "Does he really want to be in court? … Does he want to be spending all this money for attorney fees?"

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