Mobile Home Resident Alleges Harassment, Intimidation At Saratoga Park

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Angela Kaufman stands in her backyard that adjoins the Boat N RV storage facility on Saratoga Lake
Lucas Willard

A resident of a Saratoga County mobile home park is alleging harassment from her new landlord. Advocates say her situation is not unique as manufactured homes are becoming a scarce option as affordable places to live across New York.

Last summer, with her health and future in mind, Angela Kaufman made the decision to relocate from her apartment in Clifton Park to the Lakeview Mobile Home Park on Saratoga Lake.

Kaufman, who works freelance and suffers from fibromyalgia, says she moved to the 16-unit park with her partner, two rescue dogs and guinea pigs with the intention of making it a home.

“It needed a new roof right away, we did all this stuff thinking, like, once it’s all said and done, we’re going to be here for a long, long time and just be able to afford to live. If my health gets worse, it won’t be a bad thing. If I end up on disability I can afford to live here. We thought we were doing the right thing to prepare for a stable future,” said Kaufman.

But in January of 2021, Kaufman got a letter from her landlord, Brett VanZandt.

VanZandt wrote:

“The purpose of this formal letter is to advise you that I have received an offer to purchase Saratoga Lakeview Mobile Home Park from Mike Giovanone, Giovanone Real Estate Partners which I intend to accept.”

Giavanone owns the neighboring Boat NRV storage. A tall fence with barbed wire separates the storage facility from Kaufman’s backyard.

VanZandt’s letter to tenants went on to say that the prospective purchaser “has certified to me in writing that it does intend to use the land for the purposes other than manufactured home lot rentals,” and informed tenants of their rights.

Under current law, when someone decides to buy a mobile home park, residents are required to receive the right of first refusal, if the prospective buyer intends to change the use of the land once purchased. The law requires the purchaser to notify its intention of changing the use of the land upon closing of the sale or within 60 months of closing.

The law allows mobile homeowners to form a homeowners’ association and purchase the park for the same price, terms and conditions of the offer or counteroffer between the buyer and seller.

So, Kaufman, with the assistance of local non-profit Rebuilding Saratoga and the state, began exploring the possibility of forming a manufactured homeowners’ association to purchase the park for $650,000. Kaufman took the story to the Times Union newspaper, which reported on the situation in March.

But that effort was soon halted, when a new agreement was reached between VanZandt and Giavanone.

Giavanone wrote in a March 31st document that he did not intend to change the use of the park in the short-term.

“I hereby state and certify that on the closing of the sale of the above referenced property, or within 60 months of such closing, I do not intend to use the land upon which the manufactured home park is located for any purpose other than manufactured home lot rentals,” wrote Giavanone.

But uncertainty remained about what would happen after five years.

Kaufman was dubious.

“What if he just comes in and decides, ‘this place isn’t up to standard, I don’t like you… and throws everybody out?’ And the lawyer, by that time, there was a pro-bono lawyer working with us, said, ‘you know, that is a possibility. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, but that is a possibility.”

The sale went through in June, as Giavanone has stated his intention to either keep the park, expanding it to 20 lots to make it “economically feasible,” or use it as an expansion for his storage business.

Soon after, Kaufman said things started to change in the park. Kaufman described confrontations between herself and Giavanone and a hired property manager. The situation escalated to calls to the Saratoga County Sheriff from Giavanone, though no formal charges have been filed.

In a letter circulated to tenants, Giavanone wrote of several changes – the removal, trimming, or topping of trees for “safety reasons” and new perimeter fencing, and adds:

“Lastly, there seems to be a [sic] extremely vulgar, aggressive and conniving individual that lives in the park that has made threats on my well being [sic], which our local law enforcement has handled and documented.”

Kaufman believes the language asking residents to “steer clear of such a pathetic individual” is directed toward her.

Giavanone references “slanderous statements,” which Kaufman attributes to posts she made online. A cease-and-desist order was sent to Kaufman in June.

There’s also a new lease, which Kaufman signed out of protest in July.

“So yeah, this lease is, like, ridiculous. He wants people to paint the propane tanks to match our houses. Like, we don’t even own the propane tanks. All children must be accompanied by an adult at all times…we’re a dead end street. People, you know, kids play in front of their lawns. It’s just what people do. All cats that go outdoors need to be spayed or neutered and walked with a harness and a leash. Like, ridiculous, ridiculous things.”

Giavanone circulated a second lease agreement in August, which Kaufman has refused to sign.

Feeling that she and her neighbors are being intimidated or pressured into leaving, Kaufman has reached out to a non-profit, MHAction, for assistance. The organization advocates on behalf of mobile home residents across the state.

On September 11th, MHAction community organizer Yvonne Maldonado visited Kaufman in an attempt to share information with neighbors on tenants’ rights. While the pair spoke to a neighbor, Giavanone approached them with a park manager and the interaction was recorded by Kaufman.

Here’s Maldonado, followed by sound from the video obtained by WAMC.

“I felt uncomfortable. I…the manager was, like, walking towards us and I turned around and I said to the manager, I said, ‘please,’ I said, ‘stop harassing me.”

[On video]

“I am feeling very harassed. I have a right to be here and bring awareness to families in communities of manufactures homes,” says Maldonado.

“Feel free to call the police," says the manager.

“I am feeling harassed. Do not follow me and not bother me,” says Maldonado.

During that same visit, Giavanone appears to pressure Kaufman to sign what is effectively a letter of support for his management of the park.

“Every single person has the signed the letter, Angela, except you, honey. You have no support here,” says Giavanone.

“None. Zero,” says the other man.

“Crawl back into your hole,” calls Giavanone.

Maldonado, a manufactured home resident herself, says the situation in Saratoga is not unique, which is why she advocates for tenants across the state.

“People are just being displaced. They lose their homes from underneath their nose for no reason, and legislation and the laws need to change. They need to protect the affordability of manufactured homes,” said Maldonado.

New York State Senator James Skoufis, a Democrat from the 39th District, has proposed legislation that removes a requirement that the purchaser state intention to change the use of the park upon the close of sale or within 60 months.

Skoufis says the change would close a loophole in the law, one that the purchaser, in this case Giavanone, has taken advantage of.

“And basically has signaled, ‘Yes, I’m going to change the land-use of this park, but it’s not going to be for down the road, a number of years from now, don’t worry about it, and thus, I don’t have to certify that this is happening now…the current owner doesn’t have to give the right of first refusal, which is…it’s really a defiance of, certainly, the spirit and the intent of the existing law,” said Skoufis.

Skoufis’ bill passed the Senate earlier this year, but its Assembly companion remains in committee.

“Time after time we hear these stories of existing park owners or prospective park owners looking to abuse current statue, find loopholes, and take advantage of residents every chance they get. And we as policymakers have to make sure we close those loopholes and this bill that’s pending certainly will do that, in this case,” said Skoufis.

Skoufis has also sponsored legislation currently stalled in the Assembly related to rent increases.

Calls to Giavanone and an attorney representing him were not returned.

Meantime, Kaufman is wary about signing any new documents.

“I don’t know what our options are going to be, but my plan is if he wants me out here, the police are going to drag me out. If he wants to shut me up, someone is going to have to kill me, because I’m not shutting up. He can evict me, I’ll be homeless, I’ll have a lot more time on my hands to talk about this. So that’s not going to work,” said Kaufman.

Note: This post has been updated 9/22/21 to more accurately reflect the language used in a letter sent by Mr. Giavanone to park residents

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Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.