An ambitious investor has set up 79 “Sun Estates” companies in Florida, at least several of which own pre-existing mobile home parks. Now he is being sued and publicly criticized by mobile homeowners, renters, and politicians for skyrocketing lot rents and increases in water utility tenant fees.
Penny Murphy-Wood filed a lawsuit in November 2021 against Tampa Sun Estates 2, LLC for allegedly not honoring the current lease agreement regarding her water utility bill. According to her attorney, Sami Thalji of Florida Consumer Lawyers, Tampa, Murphy-Wood’s current lease through the previous owners of the park – formerly named Annette Trailer Park – does not indicate that new ownership may revise rents, utility charges, or fees during the term of the lease.
Thalji stated, “The lease agreement itself would need to set forward a path for either party to amend the terms. I don’t see any such provisions in this lease.”
Thalji also represents a second tenant of Tampa Sun Estates 2, LLC, named Marguerite Piskura who expresses the same legal complaint.
Derek Vickers, 33, is listed under Sunbiz.org as the owner of those 79 “Sun Estates” properties, which include Tampa Sun Estates 2. Thalji indicated that Vickers has not yet been served due to no listed registered agent address. Vickers, last known as an Orlando resident, is believed to be a licensed insurance agent and owner of at least two other companies.
According to the lawsuit, “The lease specifically stated that the tenant would only be required to pay for water usage above the average allotted for each tenant. The lease stated that (Murphy-Woods) would be notified when the average usage was established.” But eight months into her lease in September, Murphy-Woods was notified by the Defendant that she would be responsible for paying 100% of her water utility bills. Late fees and a threat of eviction accompanied the demand. It was noted in the suit that she paid her 2021 monthly rent in the amount of $700 on September 3 for September rent.
Meanwhile, the Tallahassee Democrat reported in December 2021 that Vickers and the new “Florida Sun Estates” mobile home community – formerly known as “The Meadows Mobile Home Park” – imposed a skyrocketed lot rent hike. The report stated the lot rent increased suddenly from $389 to $895 per month. Those residents who did not own their mobile homes were given the option to either purchase or relocate.
Numerous city leaders and non-profit organizations stepped in to assist the homeowners and renting tenants.
The article did not reference Florida’s Consumer Collections Practices Act, Section 559 as legally violated by Vickers and his company, as did Murphy-Wood’s lawsuit, but it did suggest that Florida’s Mobile Home Act, Statute 723, only protected mobile homeowners from unreasonable lot rent increases.
Thus, although a recent agreement was reached with Vickers’ Florida Sun Estates for home owners’ increased lot rents, the mobile home renters did not get the same deal. The owners were represented by Legal Services of North Florida that effectively secured an increase to only $545 per month, but the same arrangement did not include a break for the tenants who rented their homes.
“It’s happening to my trailer park now. There are 9 veterans, 4 seniors, and 2 cancer patients that are facing homelessness because they’re charging so much,” said Aimee Charbeneau in an email to The Free Press.
“My fiance and I are getting married on the 22nd and now have to figure out how to find a place to live while planning the wedding and working. I’m more worried about my elderly neighbors who have nowhere to go,” she said.
“I’ve gathered the neighbors together in an association to try to fight this. $895 is unreasonable as the people here who own their trailers were only paying $375. There are no amenities here and the trailers are old,” Charbeneau added.
The Free Press attempted to make contact with Derek Vickers for his side of the story, but he could not be reached for comment.
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