WSVN — 25 years ago they signed a lifetime lease that would only allow their rent to go up $3 a month each year for the rest of their life, then the park owner said, ‘Forget it, the leases have expired.’ Can a lifetime lease expire? It’s why one man called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

When it opened decades ago, people called this a trailer park. Today, Royal Country is called a mobile home community.

Gary Lavalle: “They take nice care of the park, this section particularly.”

Gary and his mother moved here in 1983, then in 1989, the park owner at the time made everyone an offer.

Gary Lavalle: “And then they came to us with an agreement if we would sign a lifetime lease, that our rent would only increase $3 annually and this lease would go on forever.”

Gary and his mother signed up, then in 1997, the records show the homeowners associated voted to wipe out the lifetime leases and each year the rent started going up $15 or $20 per month.

Gary didn’t agree to give up his lease but the manager told him he had to go along with the new rules.

Gary Lavalle: “I had no idea, I really didn’t.”

For 17 years Gary and his mother paid the increases, then recently a friend asked him about that lifetime lease they had signed 25 years ago. So Gary pulled it out of an old file and called the property manager.

Gary Lavalle: “And she says, ‘You’re crazy.’ I said, ‘What do you mean I am crazy?’ She says, ‘Nobody has a lifetime lease.'”

Gary showed her the lease.

Gary Lavalle: “‘Oh, if you have a lease, it expired.’ How does something lifetime expire?”

Of the 846 renters, we only know of Gary and two other people that are here who signed the lifetime leases. So Gary called Sun Communities, the investment company that owns Royal Country, about the lifetime leases.

Gary Lavalle: “She gives me some legal palabra that I really don’t understand and she don’t want to hear from me anymore. The case is closed. If I have any further problems I should hire an attorney.”

Gary can’t afford an attorney but he would like to pay the correct rent.

Look at this, when he signed the lifetime lease, he was paying $222 a month.

The lease says each year his rent could only go up $3 dollars per month meaning he should be paying about $300 a month. Instead, after years of climbing, it’s $561 today.

Gary Lavalle: “A lifetime lease. The only way this lease could expire is if I drop dead.”

Gary is alive and well but Howard, his landlords say his lifetime lease is dead as a doornail, who is right?

Howard Finkelstein: “Sometimes the law is complicated and sometimes it’s simple, this is easy. Unless you personally agreed to alter the contract, it’s last your lifetime. Pure and simple.

I contacted Sun Communities to try to get them to honor the lifetime lease and return some money to the three renters. They sent an email that said, “We have no contact.” I asked if they meant no comment, they did not reply.

Ron Rodriguez: “I came from nothing. I used to live under a bridge, I put myself thru school.”

Then an attorney, Ron Rodriguez, offered to help for free.

Ron Rodriguez: “So now that I was able to accomplish something for my life, when I see people that are in need, I do what I can to try to help them out. It’s my way of giving back.”

Rodriguez then filed suit against the park owners on behalf of Gary and the other two renters. Like Howard, he is confident they have a winning case.

Ron Rodriguez: “If justice is served, they will get back the last five years that they overpaid. Hopefully they will get back interest on their money and going forward, this company will then honor the terms of their agreement.”

Meaning Gary and his two neighbors could lower rent and a check for around $15,000 each.

Gary Lavalle: “We are not looking for something for nothing, we just want what we are entitled to.”

Patrick Fraser: “Gary had the lifetime contract that Howard and Ron say is clearly valid, but Gary couldn’t afford an attorney to fight in court. If you get into a situation like that, don’t forget small claims court. You don’t need a lawyer, you tell the judge, in your own words, your side of the story and if you are right, you will win. It is that simple.”

Contracted a problem you have a waited a lifetime to resolve? Park it with us and let us give you a new lease on life for free.

With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.


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