Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 95

Residents Gaming The System And How To Protect Yourself

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By far the majority of mobile home park residents are wonderful people. But there are a few residents out there that have learned how to take advantage of the system and good-natured park owners. The good news is that there are ways to defend against those who attempt to push false narratives and unfairly manipulate the general community.

Episode Transcript

Wikipedia defines gaming the system as using the rules and procedures meant to protect a system for desired outcome. It also compares gaming the system to rigging, abusing, cheating, milking and playing the system, none of which are very good for your residents. This is Frank Rolfe with Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast series. We're going to be talking about residents that game the system and how to protect your mobile home park from them.

So let's first start off with probably the most common way the residents try and rig things. That's by not paying the rent and instead wanting to convert over to partial payments or payment plans. This has been going on probably as long as mobile home parks have been in existence and here's how it works. Let's say the lot rent due on the first of the month is $300. They don't give you $300 they give you $100 and say I'll just owe $200 and I'll pay you that next month. The next month the story repeats. The rent is $300. This time they pay you $150. They don't pay any of the balance from the prior month. They say yeah, just put it on my tab so now I owe you $350.

Month over month they continue to bill up the tab but there's no plan to ever pay it back. To pay it back, they would have to start paying a surplus, more than the rent each month. But of course that never happens. Eventually what happens is mom and pop then have to evict the resident and it's a messy eviction because normally the amounts that are owed are gigantic and the resident can never come up with the money. It's really not in anyone's interest. It's not in the interest of the park owner, obviously, but it's equally not in the interest of the resident who gets so far behind with these crazy payment plans that they can never possibly get caught up.

How do you battle against this? Well, you have to enact a system called no pay, no stay. It's the only fare system that actually works. How it works is basically someone can not live in the mobile home park if they are not current on the rent. It's that simple. They don't pay the rent by the fifth, which is typically the grace period between the first and the fifth. If they get a demand letter, at the end of the demand letter, you file the eviction. Once you get the eviction, you file what's called a writ of possession and at that point the constable removes them from the home.

It's not fair to your other residents who don't game the system to allow other people to have payment plans. You're not a bank, you're not a charge company. You don't do minimum payment due. It's the entire amount that is due each month. And if you start letting people get away with creating payment plans and structures that have nothing to do with the reality that rent is due on the first of each month, it's just not fair to anybody and it simply does not work.

The next item that they do really big right now in mobile home parks is abuse of companion animals. Now, not service animals. Service animals anyone can spot and there's no problem or question on service animals. The problem is companion animals. I'm not sure when it actually began. It seems to be accelerating at the speed of light. What a companion animal is defined as is an animal under doctor's orders or recommendations, is there to assist the person. It can be for either physical or mental issues. And traditionally the whole cost of the companion animal is that it was all prescribed by a doctor and there was paperwork to enforce that.

But instead what happens today is people go on Ebay and they buy for $20 this little vest that says companion animal on it. And they clip that to virtually any animal, even animals that the vest isn't even made for. They then try and pass that off as a doctored companion animal, and the fact is they're not. Anyone who flies on commercial airlines has seen this happening all the time on Southwest Airlines. Originally, Southwest was the first airline, I believe, to allow you to take a dog or a cat, a small animal on a plane with you in a carrier that goes onto your seat. Next thing you know, the dogs are getting increasingly larger. Southwest tries to stop them and people say you can't stop this dog. This giant massive dog is my companion animal. It accelerated from there.

Recently Southwest had to allow a miniature horse on a flight because they didn't know how to stop it legally. So they said okay, I guess so. Of course, everyone knew the miniature horse could not possibly be a companion animal. But recently they did restrict a peacock from entering the plane, saying that the peacock's shrill screaming with scared of the crew and allow them not to be able to hear the controls. So when will it end? I have no idea. It's kind of sad. The government has taken absolutely no effort to correct the issue, but I have faith that the airline industry, if nobody else, will ultimately get the rules and all the abuses curved.

So how do you deal with fake companion animals? Well, the best and only way to do it is to turn any such case over to your insurance company and let them decide what they want to do. So basically if you use Kurt Kelly, for example, Mobile Insurance as your insurance company, you would call Kurt and say hey Kurt, someone wants to bring in a companion animal donkey. I don't think it's appropriate. I don't think it's legit. It looks like the old $20 vest from Ebay, but I don't want to get any legal problems with anybody because bear in mind if you question someone's companion or service animal, it would open you up to potentially some kind of fine or or issue. So you don't dare do it. But your insurance company sure can. If the insurance company thinks it's not legitimate, they can go to the person and say let me see that your documentation. Excuse me. This is just one of those standard letters you buy for 10 bucks off Ebay from a doctor of another country who's never seen you, ever. I need something a little more precise.

So on that one, the only protection you really have is to get with your insurance agent and let them take the ball and run with it. If they feel, well, they don't want to, that's fine, because at the end of the day they're the ones who will protect you if that companion Rottweiler attacks the neighbor. They're the ones who are going to have to face whatever the penalties are from that. So let them be the referee on that. You should not get involved in that yourself, but don't feel remiss getting your insurance company involved in that if you feel that someone's a companion animal, which is not legitimate.

Next item, of course, are fake insurance claims, typically slip and fall. I had an issue once where a resident called and said they'd fallen down the stairs of a mobile home rental. Then I was in the park and went by the home and there was the spouse in the yard watering some flowers. I said hey, what happened with the stair fall? And they said I don't know what you're talking about because apparently the one spouse had decided to make up this story and never bothered to inform the other one. That's how rampant it can be.

So what do you do? Well, you have two steps on that one. Number one, practically fix anything you see that could resolve in some form of claim. So if you have a sidewalk that has a gap, a three or four inch rise and one part of the sidewalk which is not shared on the other side that someone might trip on, well then fix it. Don't let it sit like that. Get all those kinds of items fixed. Don't let have anything out there that can cause you any kind of claim.

The second is be sure to document everything that you need to to make sure that people don't make up stories later and come back in complete contradiction of the truth. A common one is if you've got smoke alarms in a mobile home that you sell or rent, make them sign something stating truthfully that the alarms are working. A lot of residents see most smoke alarms as a quick way to get some batteries when the TV controller goes dead. So what they'll do is we'll take the batteries out of the smoke alarm and never put them back. Then if the house has a fire, they'll claim oh no, it was that way when I bought or rented the home there. There were no batteries in it. So be sure and document everything you can because if anything ever does go bad, that documentation is what you need to overcome someone's argument that's false.

Next up to bat, residents who call city hall to complain of problems that don't exist. This is how a lot of residents in some mobile home parks feel they can punish the owner, is to call up and just make stories up. Or if there's such things, and even a small water leak, the call the city and claim it's a hemorrhaging river of water that may wash the entire park away, hoping in this manner that their false narrative will get the city to move faster or do something or harass the park owner.

So how do you battle that one? Well, number one, be a good neighbor. Build a good relationship with the city. If the city knows you, likes you, knows you do a good job, they're less likely to think that the resident is telling the truth when they make up and fabricate these insane stories.

What does that mean? Mostly it means keep your park condition and your appearance in very high order. First impression is key. Many people in the city never actually even enter into the mobile home park. All they see is from the frontage. Obviously, then you want everyone to have a good first impression, a positive vibe as far as your park. So make sure that your entry looks good, that everything that they can see from the road looks good, because what you don't want to have happen is you don't want to have a situation where the city is at odds with you just over your appearance when actually you're doing a good job, just pass that entry. So always try and keep your appearance high, your relationship good with the city. That normally should do the trick. As long as you're doing a good job, they are not going to do a knee jerk reaction when the resident calls, but instead contact you and get the true story of what's going on.

Next thing what they could do, residents can do the same thing with the media. They can try and game the media. So how do they do that? Well, they basically call and make up all kinds of stories saying that the park is doing a terrible job, that there's sewage back up, that the owner is evil, whatever the case may be. A lot of new stations today, there's so much time to fill in the media. If you look how much news there is, I mean there's 24 hour news on how many channels, like 10 of them? So they're always looking for something and they've got to fill time.

So what do you do when some resident offers this false narrative and tries to game the system to the media to try and make you look bad or damage reputation of your property or damage your own personal reputation? Well, the first thing is don't be quiet about it. Speak up, speak loudly, defend yourself. A lot of people think the best thing to do when the media comes calling is to hide and say nothing. That never, ever works. I don't even know where that strategy came from, but that's not even a strategy.

When someone is trying to spread rumors, false rumors about you, it's very, very important that you offer the truth so that people have both sides of the story. When you hide, they don't hear the other side of the story. So what are they to believe? They only have one story so they just figure that must be it.

The other thing you can do is try to educate the media on the fact that our industry is not all about taking advantage of people. We are the only form of non subsidized affordable housing, that's a given. And number two, it doesn't make any economic sense for a park owner to do a bad job. Why would you do that? If you do a bad job, you will have no resident retention. You could disqualify your loan when you do your annual loan inspection. Every reason in the world, the park owner would strive to offer superior customer service. It makes complete sense when you explain it to them, but prior to that, they're all locked in that stereotype that the media already created through shows like Cops and Myrtle Manor and movies like Eight Mile, that all mobile home parks are just a giant mess and all owners are uncaring and hate everybody and hate their residents. It's simply not true. Every time you can educate them, it helps the industry a little bit and hopefully keeps you out of trouble.

Don't forget the New York Times article where they so glowingly raved about Dave and I, that we were the greatest things in affordable housing in the US. This started off as a very negative article. The writer of the article wanted write a slam piece on the industry, that it was no better than payday lending. It was nothing but a bunch of people try to take advantage of the poor. Until we offered the writer to live in one of our mobile home parks, which he did for a week. Then he wrote a glowing article because he found the reality was very, very much different than the stereotype. So educating people can have a lot of benefits.

Next is when residents try and do false narratives where they try and claim that the manager is taking advantage of them. Now what's going on is they're trying to game the system to make the manager look like they're not doing their job and try and get them fired. Now why would they do that? Well, number one, they can't pay the rent and you're in the middle of an eviction. So they decided to get back to the manager for making them pay rent. They're going to call in and make up some crazy story that he's doing drugs or who knows what. Same can be on rules violations. Maybe the manager went to them and said hey, your property looks bad. You've got to clean it up. And so they said oh yeah, well here I'll get back at you. Then they try and call the office and claim that the person's doing a terrible job.

So how do you fix that? Well, the first thing you have to do is you have to slow the process down. You've got to gather the facts. Don't do a knee jerk reaction. If someone calls up and says hey, your manager is dealing drugs, don't just pick up the phone and call the manager and say hey, you're dealing drugs because you have no facts. So the first thing you do is you got to slow it down. You need to gather all of the facts.

Number two, you always have to be suspicious of the intent of the resident. Now, if this resident is current on the rent and the home looks great, well then maybe not. But if this very person when you look down your list is currently in the midst of eviction or as on your list of people who have rules violations, then you have to kind of be suspicious of exactly what their motive is.

Number three, you've got to go ahead and always keep the attitude that the manager is innocent until proven guilty. That is our law here in the United States, contrary to what you may see in the media today. And that there are two sides to every story and it's your job to go ahead and get both sides of the story and then make an educated decision based on the facts. Sometimes yes, the manager may be doing bad things and they may need a corrective action, even replacement of the manager. But often the resident is simply trying to game the system to get what they want.

Now, let's sum in up. In all these cases, what are the steps to stopping people who are trying to abuse our system, our rules in America? The first thing you've got to do is you've got to slow down the process. People who are trying to game the system, one of their weapons is to try and force you into a fast rush judgment, which is in fact wrong. Don't do that. Slow things down. You do not have to make a snap decision. You do not have to decide by 5:00, no matter what any resident may try and tell you, so slow things down. Our American court system does not move very quickly. It's more like a turtle and you need to kind of adopt that same attitude. Let's get all the facts here before we make any judgments.

Number two, get all the facts. Go ahead and get all the facts. You can think of yourself like a crime scene investigator for the police department. Exactly what transpired here? Give me some photo evidence, give me a smartphone video. Show me what's going on. Try and get all the facts. Again, people who game the system, they live in terror of people who fact check because they know that the facts will prove that they're lying.

Number three, document all the facts. Go ahead and get in writing every fact that there is. Why? Because if you ever do have to go to court, you'll need that documentation. You want to create the paper trail. That's how court works, is the person with a paper trail typically wins. So go ahead and get it in writing that the smoke detector had the batteries and get in writing that the tree was completely live and the limb that fell down was not because the limb was dead or that you did a bad job.

Next, be firm and do not waver on your decision. People who gain the system prey on trying to get you where you can't take a firm stance hoping they can kind of slide in there, in that little gap of indecision. Don't do that. When you've gathered all the facts and made your decision, stick with your decision.

But the most important issue probably is don't let people who gain the system make you lose confidence and respect for people in general. Remember that 99.9% of your resident base are all nice, good, well intentioned, honorable people. Don't let the few that try and game the system give you a bad attitude. That's probably the most damaging thing that can happen when you have people who abuse systems, is it makes you feel perhaps that everyone abuses the system and that's simply not true. So just acknowledge there are some bad people out there. They are few and far between, thank heavens, but don't let them ruin your attitude towards everybody else. Everybody else is a good person. Everybody else is a good customer. And let's always acknowledge that.

This is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast series. Hope you enjoyed this. I'll be back again soon.