TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A double whammy! Residents at a Tampa Bay area mobile home community are getting hit with two unexpected price hikes. They turned to 8 On Your Side, asking how to challenge the charges.

Now, Investigator Mahsa Saeidi is getting them answers.

8 On Your Side set up interviews with two people at Sunshine Mobile Home Park in St. Petersburg — But when we showed up, more than 30 residents were waiting for us.

They said the latest rent hike has left them devastated.

“It usually matches the social security increase each year, close to that, but this time it’s almost three times as much,” said resident Donna Pettaway.

“Most people on the $70 increase were not even going to be able to afford the $70 increase,” another resident said.

But it’s not just a $70 rent hike. For the first time, they’re on the hook for property taxes too.

The notice from park owner Legacy Communities, LLC stated this year, in total, residents will be charged $957 for the ad valorem tax and $42 for the non-ad valorem tax. Those new monthly installments are effective starting April 1 and residents say they don’t have the resources to hire legal counsel.

“Basically just want to know if it’s legal, we have to pay that fee,” said Mike Spadafora.

Attorney Russ Klemm has represented tenants at mobile home parks for years.

“There’s a right to do this under the statute, under certain conditions,” Klemm said.

He says the amount of the charges can be challenged. First, check your rental lot agreement and prospectus to see if it includes a provision for this tax.

By law, you must get 90 days notice.

Next, check the rate by going to the county property appraiser’s website: Divide the total tax by the number of lots.

But most important of all, Klemm says form a homeowners committee and formally request a meeting with the park owner.

They’ll have to explain the increase with documentation.

“Are comparable parks going up at the same amount? Is there a special expenditure that he incurred that year? Is he improving infrastructure, roads, lighting,” Klemm asked.

Mobile home park residents have to act fast.

“As soon as you get a notice of lot rental or other increase, ask for that meeting with the park owner,” Klemm added.

The meeting must take place no later than 60 days before the increase goes into effect.

For this community, the deadline is Jan. 31.

In a statement, Andrew Fells, the COO of Legacy Communities, told 8 On Your Side, “Legacy meets with every community who requests such meeting.”

They say they try to “mitigate costs to keep rent increases reasonable,” but “economic conditions have changed drastically. interest rates have more than doubled, insurance costs have increased dramatically.”

“We have veterans, people, like I said, who have been here forever, trying to live out the rest of their days,” said another resident.

To fight price hikes, mobile home park residents have to unite together.

“You do,” Klemm said. “This is an opportunity to get an explanation as to why these fees are going up.”

So could the fees go down? Klemm said it’s possible if park owners don’t have their ducks in a row.

Park residents are encouraged to do their homework, get an appraiser, and find out what other similar parks are charging.

Here’s the full statement from, Andrew Fells, the COO of Legacy Communities:

“Legacy Communities is committed to our residents and to providing affordable and quality communities. We take pride in maintaining and improving our communities, fostering a community-like culture, and ensuring residents experience high-level customer service.

As of today, Legacy has invested over $700,000 in upgrades to the Sunshine community. This includes necessary electrical infrastructure upgrades, roadwork, the completion or contracting for new street signs, fencing, and pool area enhancements. We have also purchased new homes and are renovating several used homes within the community.

Beginning this year, and as allowed by Florida statute, the incremental ad valorem property tax and non-ad valorem assessments will be passed on to residents.  Legacy has set the tax year of 2021 as the base year and the difference between that real estate tax bill and that of 2022 is being charged, pro-rata, to the tenants, with payments spread over 9 months. Legacy chose to pass on the incremental amount rather than rolling the tax into rent because if those real estate taxes decrease below the 2021 tax year, residents will not be charged in 2024.

Legacy works diligently to mitigate costs to keep rent increases reasonable and to keep residents in our communities.  Unfortunately, as with most industries, economic conditions have changed drastically. Interest rates have more than doubled, insurance costs have increased dramatically, and most common expenses have surpassed CPI.  

It is important to clarify that no one has requested a tenant meeting.  Legacy has not, and will not deny the tenants a meeting. A request for said meeting is at the obligation of a tenant committee and the process is set forth in Florida statutes (Chap. 723). Legacy meets with every community who requests such meeting.”

If you have a tip or a comment, email Investigator Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com.