Photo Gallery: Construction at Pine Valley Mobile Home Park
CHESHIRE --The owner of Pine Valley Mobile Home Park made its case for an increase in the town-controlled rent it charges tenants at a public hearing Wednesday night.
The Board of Selectmen, acting as the town's rent control board, closed the public hearing and gave each party -- park owner Morgan Management and the tenants association -- one week to file any more legal arguments.
The board will then issue its final decision within 21 days. Either party will be allowed to appeal the board's decision to the state.
Morgan Management hopes to increase rents by $38.27 per month. Each unit in the community currently pays $256 per month, excluding utilities. The new rent would be $294.27, an increase of approximately 15 percent.
Throughout the several public hearings held on the proposal -- Wednesday's being the latest and final -- the management company has argued that the rent increase is necessary to pay for a new $412,000 septic system in the mobile home community.
The new septic system will hook up as many as 33 of the nearly 100 units in the community, according to Robert Kraus, an attorney for Morgan Management.
Sewage will be deposited into a 15,000-gallon tank, then filter further below ground into a 10,000 gallon tank. It will then be pumped directly into the ground.
Tenants association representatives claim that a state law, Title 5, excludes expenses incurred by "complying with minimum standards" from being used as justification for a rent increase.
"The minimum standards ... were clearly identified in the original title five legislation," said Hugh Heisler, an attorney for the tenants association.
Selectmen will need to determine whether the new septic system can legally be classified as an "upgrade" -- the expenses for which can be passed on to tenants -- or if it is simply meeting "minimum standards."
Kraus argued Wednesday that his client does have the right to pass on such capital expenses, and has done so before. He added that capital projects used to justify a raise in rent have historically been "liberally interpreted."
"We'd be overturning nearly nine years of precedent [in Cheshire]," Kraus said.
Heisler said the "owners cannot pass the cost of bringing the system into compliance."
The tenants association argued that funds from previous rent increase should have been in an escrow account and used toward the larger renovation the community is now seeing.
"Rather than building up that fund ... they've been using it to basically pay for the consequences of not dealing with the issue."
Kraus argued that the escrow account in question was for expenses incurred while complying with the Department of Environmental Protection, not the town, and said they are "apples and oranges."
The useful life of the new system was also a point of contention. The rent increase is based on a 15-year lifespan of the new septic system. Kraus said that engineers estimated the lifespan of the new septic system at 30 years "under normal use," but that it would likely not last 30 years in Pine Valley.
Morgan Management representatives declined to give an approximate date of completion for the project Wednesday night due to unforeseen obstacles in the installation of the system.
However, Kraus said that there was no indication the delay would change the $412,000 estimate.
The most recent rent increase occurred in 2011.
Heisler asked the board to deny the application Wednesday, while Kraus asked for more time. The board ultimately allowed one week for additional input.
"Under your own ordinance, you have the discretion to deny [the application] now," Heisler said. "There are just way too many problems with this application."
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