ROSSVILLE, Ga. — With multiple tenants complaining about the business practices at Tom Lackey's manufactured home communities, some industry leaders are neither supporting nor condemning his work.
Lackey, the owner of Stoney Pointe Mobile Home Park and Blue Ridge Estates in Rossville, has been criticized by his tenants for leaving them with sub-standard housing that can include holes in the walls, black mold and rat infestations. Some tenants also have accused Lackey and his employees of misleading them about the terms of their contracts, charging tens of thousands of dollars more than the appraised value of decades-old manufactured homes.
In addition to owning parks, Lackey is on the planning commission of the Southeastern Community Owners Symposium, an organization that aims to educate other manufactured home community owners on best practices in the industry. SECO holds annual conferences in Atlanta and has grown from a couple dozen attendees eight years ago to a couple hundred people last year.
"I couldn't ask for a more professional, conscientious, or capable member of our team," Spencer Roane, a co-founder of SECO, said of Lackey in a statement, as first reported by Daily Business News, a blog that tracks the manufactured home industry.
Contacted by the Times Free Press on Friday, Roane said the statement accurately reflected his thinking. He declined to comment on Lackey's use of seller-financed contracts, only saying they are generally a "complicated, legally enforceable means of transferring ownership of [manufactured homes] in some states."
Reviewing copies of Lackey's contract with one tenant, real estate attorneys with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the Georgia Legal Services Program said the arrangement could potentially be predatory. So did a University of Texas law professor who has studied seller- financed contracts.
Lackey did not return multiple calls or an email seeking comment on a list of questions Friday afternoon.
George Allen, a veteran owner of manufactured home parks who writes about the business, downplayed Lackey's involvement with SECO. He said the organization is rather informal, just a group of park owners who hope to exchange ideas.
Allen added that the latest allegations against Lackey seemed "thin." Tonya Evans, who lives on Lot 66 of Stoney Pointe, told the Times Free Press last week that she paid Lackey $16,000 to buy a manufactured home two years ago. Problem is, she said Lackey never provided her a title to the home, meaning she is not its legal owner.
Allen said he has been told that Evans was not telling the truth, that Lackey actually did give her a title. He told the Times Free Press he did not get this information directly from Lackey.
But the title of the home isn't even in Lackey's name, according to Walker County Tax Commissioner records. It's in the name of the park's previous owners. When Lackey purchased the park in 2014, he did not receive the title for all the homes inside. You must have the title to own the home.
Asked about Lackey, Georgia Manufactured Housing Association Director Jay Hamilton said he could not speak about the group's individual members. Generally speaking, he said the association maintains a code of ethics and has a process in place to handle those who cross ethical boundaries.
What is the code of the ethics, and what is the process? Hamilton said he could not share that information with the public.
"It can contain a number of things," he said of the association's potential actions, "all the way from expelling a member to contacting a regulator. They are very similar to the types of codes of ethics that other professional associations have. But we do not distribute that to the public."
Hamilton said that the majority of the association's members do not offer deceptive or predatory contracts to their tenants. He said there are a wide range of park owners, though, from large national organizations to retirees who need a new source of income. Practices can vary wildly as well.
"You could find several cases there where people have purchased parks but don't know the law," he said. " But as an association, that's not what we recommend. It's pretty small, people like that."
Hamilton hopes a bill signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal on May 7 will cut down on some confusion over the titles to old manufactured homes. But the Abandoned Mobile Home Act, which takes effect May 1 of next year, does not address Evans' problem with Lackey.
In the case of Stoney Pointe, Lackey bought a park and inherited some manufactured homes not in his name. The process to get a title in a case like that takes a long time. According to Georgia law, you have to remove the manufactured home from your property, which can cost at least $3,000. You have to pay to store it elsewhere, such as a storage company's yard, then file a written demand in court, asking the home's previous owner to cover the cost of the move.
If the previous owner does not respond or does not pay off the debt, the county will hold a public auction for the property. The highest bidder will then send paperwork to the Georgia Department of Revenue, applying for the title. Some places, including Walker County, only hold these auctions every six months.
Under the Abandoned Mobile Home Act, a landowner can call a county representative to look at the property. If the representative — probably a building inspector — says the manufactured home is too run down to live in, the case will go to a magistrate judge. Assuming the judge agrees, the landowner will be allowed to destroy the home.
This saves the owner money, since they don't have to pay to haul it off to another location at the beginning of the process. State Rep. John Corbett, R-Albany, one of the bill's sponsors, said that has been a problem all over the state: People inherit or buy land with old manufactured homes, but they don't have the money to get rid of them.
Worth County Tax Commissioner Tabetha Dupriest, who began lobbying for the law three years ago, believes it will clean up communities around the state.
"It's an eyesore," she said. "And there's nothing we can do. The landowner can't do anything about it. And we can try to sell it, but it's going to be a no-sale."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.