Residents of a St. Anthony manufactured home park have lost their bid to block its sale, a Hennepin County district judge ruled this week.
The residents of Lowry Grove cannot undo the June 13 sale of the property to a development company — even if it’s determined that the seller violated a 1991 state law giving manufactured-home owners the first right of refusal to buy the land. The new owner plans to remove them, and the 97 homeowners face relocation within the next year.
The statute “does not grant them an unfettered ability to purchase the park. They were not deprived on that right because it was never, in fact, granted to them,” Judge Joseph R. Klein wrote in what is believed to be the first legal test of the law.
The lawmakers who passed it were clear, Klein wrote: When residents of mobile home parks were given the right of first refusal, they were “simultaneously limited to sue only for damages.”
The ruling is a blow to the residents who have sued to keep the park open.
“I am sad that our world seems to value bottom line financial returns more than it does people,” said Alan Arthur, CEO of Aeon, a nonprofit aiding the residents in their fight. Arthur said they’ll meet with their attorneys next week to discuss their next move. They can still seek monetary damages if they can prove the law was broken.
Plans to close the park are moving forward, according to the new land owner, the Village LLC.
“We are pleased with, but not surprised by, Judge Klein’s ruling,” said Traci Tomas, vice president of the Village, in a written statement. “From the beginning, we’ve realized that this is a difficult situation for the residents. That has never been something we’ve taken lightly.”
Tomas has denied violating the state statute, countering that residents didn’t meet all the criteria.
In late April, the original owners, Lowry Grove LLC, notified residents they intended to sell the property to the Village for $6 million. The new owner would close the park in a year’s time and redevelop the 15 acres.
It’s the only manufactured homes park in St. Anthony, and many residents feared losing the good suburban schools and safe streets the city offers.
Under state law, the residents had 45 days to match the offer. The homeowners partnered with Aeon, a nonprofit landlord, to make a matching $6 million offer on June 10, the day of the deadline. The offer was rejected, and on June 13, the sale became final.
Outraged, the residents and Aeon sued, arguing the law and their rights had been violated.
Klein said the question of whether state law was violated could go to trial but ruled that the residents could not undo a sale that has already occurred. Klein said the statute and the legislative intent is clear, “should a park be sold contrary to [the law] the only remedy the residents in the park have is to sue under a violation of this law for something besides ownership of the land.”
When passing the 1991 statute, Klein wrote, lawmakers were balancing competing priorities: “Giving manufactured homeowners a tool to protect their homes while not overtly interfering with park owner’s ability to sell their property.”
Leaders of the Village said they are now helping residents connect with local and state resources to aid their relocation.
“Right now, we are focused on those who have expressed a desire to complete their move before winter sets in,” Tomas said. “We are working with the City of St. Anthony … so residents can submit applications to the Minnesota Manufactured Home Relocation Trust Fund for financial assistance that will help with their relocation.”
Aeon, which owns and manages thousands of affordable apartments. is already exploring other housing options for Lowry Park residents if the park does close. But demand for affordable housing is fierce.
“We had 47 affordable units come online recently and over 1,000 people standing in line for them,” Arthur said.
Residents say they are not giving up.
“We continue working together to save Lowry Grove. We will organize more action,” said Antonia Alvarez, president of the Lowry Grove Resident Association. “I understand they are very rich, but we have community support.”