Mount Airy and Surry County officials agree that there is a housing shortage in this area, but solutions are as hard to come by as a house for rent.
Some residents of mobile home parks say they feel stuck in bad rental situations that are not safe or healthy because they lack any other options which keeps them locked in place. With so few options to rent, and prices that quite frankly are not possible for some folks to afford, some residents of these parks say the situation is making them sick emotionally and in some cases physically as well.
The North Carolina Department of Justice advises, “If the landlord fails to fix something that puts your safety at risk or violates local codes, report it to local authorities.”
Unfortunately, Allen Poindexter will tell you he is the walking proof that does not always work as he has reported mold and safety issues repeatedly to anyone who would listen from State Senator Eddie Settle, county commissioners, and inspectors.
His family have been living in a mobile home park on Emerald Lane in Mount Airy for many years but when a new owner, Franklin Communities, bought the trailer park in March 2022 without conducting an inspection of his trailer, he said things went south.
For the nine years prior there were no problems with the former owner Poindexter said, “We ever had problems with James Hunter. If there was a problem, he would be on top of it.”
When he started raising concerns about mold in the walls, a rickety staircase, holes in flooring, faulty smoke detector, and HVAC that did not work properly he was told the issues would be addressed – they were not.
Similarly, Jackie May has been living at Redbarn Mobile Home Park off White Pine Country Club Road since 2018 when a family emergency required a quick relocation. He said they rented the trailer sight unseen and that problems began on their arrival when the trailer was stacked high with trash “and not ready to be live in,” he said.
Since that time they have had problems with the unit itself including an instance, “Where my mother fell through the floor and the landlord said it was our fault. She said the floor didn’t look that way before. She said it’s our fault.”
He added that access to water can be intermittent and that he and other residents were going “weeks without water. We were just without for a week and then someone from her crew came out and turned the water back on – to everyone but us. I went out to there are turned our’s back on, we were the only one still off.”
May added that landlord Sandra Davis also turned off her phone and is accepting no more calls on any of his issues like water, rotting floors, and mold in the HVAC. He said these are issues that he has brought up, but nothing gets done.
An alarming example happened when May needed to get to the hospital but was having trouble getting out of the park, “I could barely get out of the driveway, and I mentioned it to her and asked her to scrape it clean.” Rather than address the problem, Davis reportedly told him, “Next time, tell EMS you’re going to need a 4-wheeler.”
“She told me to shut up because I keep complaining and said if I don’t like it, I should go live somewhere else,” May said. If there is a contract between renter and landlord then May asks, “Why are we paying for a trailer they don’t want to fix?”
He got a letter attached to his front door from a member of county inspections that referred him to the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office; he is unsure if other residents of Redbarn Mobile Home Park got the same notice.
However, he said the park was a known offender to the inspector who May recounted said, “That if he had to come back out here one more time, he said he was going to close the whole thing down.”
That caused alarm bells for May who lives with his mother in the trailer, “I asked him where we were supposed to go if that happened, and he said that would be up to us.”
“We would have nowhere to go, I mean – I have a tent but my mom has animals and dementia,” meaning while he could tolerate those conditions for a period of time, he is unwilling to subject his mother to that.
After raising concerns both May and Poindexter felt that matters got worse. Poindexter said that after he spoke up at county board meetings that his landlord issued a summary eviction on him and then announced his lease was not eligible for renewal which he feels is retribution.
Armed with a stack of documents, he showed the board of commissioners a Duke Power energy summary snapshot of his power usage early this year and found it to be some 99% above the norm.
He said the heat did not function properly leading his family to run the heat on emergency setting which uses more power which is how that bill rose so high. His usage that month was 4,627 kilowatt hours, the average home in his area used 2,325 kwh in that same period.
Now the eviction notice has been met with a counterclaim by Poindexter in an attempt to get compensation for rental of a unit that was not fully livable and for a portion of the overdue power bill.
If the problems had been addressed there would not have been such a large power bill he said. He also doesn’t think it fair that he pay rent on a unit on which the main bedroom is not habitable, the hall floor is rotting through, black mold is found, and the water is not clean enough to drink or cook with.
Poindexter feels the contract with the owner of the mobile home park includes some assumption that the tenant has the right to have things repaired in a timely fashion. He said that has not always been the case.
When reached for comment, Vincent Sprecher of Franklin Communities said his lawyer H. Lee Merritt had already advised they had no comment.
Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, Poindexter said he wants to continue to fight for improved tenant’s right in North Carolina but said that will be an uphill battle. At this point he said it is a battle worth fighting for the principle of the matter and he is ready to carry on not only for his family but others so that they may avoid the scenario he, May, and other renters find themselves stuck in.