Mobile Home Park Owner Responds To Allegations Of Harassment
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Last week, we brought you the story of a Saratoga County mobile home owner who said she felt harassed and intimidated by her new landlord. The landlord, who purchased the park in June, and his attorney sat down with WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard, who brings us this update.
Angela Kaufman, a mobile home owner in the Saratoga Lakeview development, says she feels intimidated and harassed by her new landlord, Mike Giavanone.
Giavanone, the owner of the neighboring Boat N RV storage facility, purchased the park in June. Kaufman, who moved to the park in July 2020 with her partner and pets, was hoping to stay, but is worried about losing her place. Giavanone announced his intention to keep the property operating as a mobile home park for five years, but is considering his options to either expand the park from 16 to 20 units or use the property for a possible future expansion of his storage business.
Kaufman, who alleges the sale between Giavanone and her previous landlord takes advantage of a loophole in state law that avoids giving right of first refusal to tenants, believes she is being pressured into leaving.
Here’s Kaufman speaking to WAMC in a story aired September 17th:
“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.
The tenant-landlord relationship between Kaufman and Giavanone and a hired property manager has soured, going as far as calls to the sheriff.
Kaufman initially brought her advocacy online, but Giavanone took offense to what he has characterized as false and vulgar statements made about him.
Giavanone denies attempting to evict Kaufman or pressure her into moving.
“One of the things I would prefer to say is, ‘Have you ever heard the word evict out of my mouth?’ If you could bring one of the tenants that ever heard the tenants that ever heard the word evict out of my mouth, I’ll give you a free year’s rent. Never happened. These reports…I’m not on Facebook. I’m not on social media, so I don’t interact. I read this stuff that people show me and…I don’t know where her anger and animosity comes from. I believe it’s from the prior owner,” said Giavanone.
Victor Caponera, an attorney representing Giavanone, sent Kaufman a cease-and-desist letter in June asking Kaufman to stop posting about his client online. Here’s Caponera speaking to WAMC.
“Nobody is being intimidated, nobody is being harassed. We’re trying to do the best we possibly can under the laws we’re required to adhere to. And, again, we just want to set the record straight. And there’s been a lot of comments that have been made by this young lady, so much so that I had to write her a letter saying, ‘Stop publishing this on Facebook because it’s slanderous to my client’s good name.’ And I sent her a cease-and-desist letter,” said Caponera.
As WAMC previously reported, Giavanone, as part of his communication to tenants this summer, circulated a letter detailing several changes– the removal, trimming, or topping of trees for “safety reasons” and new perimeter fencing.
The letter came as tensions grew between Kaufman and Giavanone. It reads:
“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 at her.
WAMC also previously reported on a video of an interaction between Giavanone, a hired park manager, Kaufman, and Yvonne Maldonado, an organizer with group MHAction, which advocates for tenants of mobile homes.
Giavanone is heard on the tape calling to the pair, who were attempting to share literature with neighbors about tenant’s rights.
“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.
Giavanone, referring here to another neighbor, denied he was attempting to pressure Kaufman into signing a letter of support.
“She said that I…your article said that I said, tried to force her to sign something. I didn’t have anything in my hands. I had nothing. Burt will attest to that. What she said, there’s nothing further from the truth. If she wants to walk around with five different people, it’s a free world. Just don’t get hurt,” said Giavanone.
A point of contention between Kaufman and Giavanone is the removal or topping of trees in the park. Giavanone showed WAMC a photo of a tree, rotten from the inside, which was removed. Other photos show vacant structures piled with garbage. He describes conditions of the park before his purchase.
“We had people dumping motor oil on the ground, tenants dumping motor oil on the ground five feet from the well. We had trees that were ready to destroy these homes. I mean, Lucas, you’re talking paper-thin roofs. Something was going to happen there. But nothing’s ever been done. So when people see the rate that we come in and we start to solve a problem, it might be a little out of the ordinary, but nothing’s been done so anything seems quick,” said Giavanone.
Giavanone said he has invested about $45,000 into the park. He cites good relations with other tenants, and showed WAMC an invitation from a neighbor to attend a picnic.
Meantime, Kaufman, who signed an initial lease agreement under protest, has refused to sign a second lease agreement.
Attorney Caponera explained that the first lease document was rescinded after it was requested to be reviewed by the Attorney General’s office.
“I got the phone call from the attorney general’s office, and saying, ‘Listen, can I look at your lease?’ she said. I said, ‘Of course you can, here it is.’ And then she responded and she said, ‘well it certainly,’ and again I’m paraphrasing, ‘but it certainly appears like you’re trying to adhere to the law as best you can,’ but she says, ‘I’m going to make these recommendations and you make these changes.’ So I did and I sent it out.”
Kaufman has called the lease agreement ridiculous. Here she is speaking with WAMC:
“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.”
Caponera says Kaufman has not signed the revised lease, nor does she have to. Speaking with WAMC, he cites Section 233 of New York State Real Property law in relation to manufactured homes:
“Such offer shall also contain a statement advising the manufactured home owner that if he or she fails to execute and return the lease to the manufactured home park owner or operator within thirty days after submission of such lease, the manufactured home owner shall be deemed to have declined the offer of a lease and shall not have any right to a lease from the manufactured home park owner or operator for the next succeeding twelve months. That’s what the law says. And this is exactly what I said, when I said, ‘Listen, here ya go. We don’t want to accept an under-protest lease because I don’t know what you’re protesting.’
The revised lease is set to take effect on November 4th.
Note: Kaufman, in response to this story, issued a statement to WAMC, clarifying that she did not believe Giavanone was pressuring her to sign a letter support.