A CARAVAN park boss has sparked uproar after hiking rents by 25 per cent and charging £700 residents who want to leave a £700 fee.
South Tyneside Council recently sold Northumbrian Leisure a 125-year lease for Sandhaven Caravan park on South Shields seafront for 1.2m.
But when the Northumberland-based firm took over, it announced a 300 rent increase, a new metered electricity system, and told residents they were no longer guaranteed the same plots, provoking anger among those with prime seafront views.
Those who said they weren't happy with the changes and wanted to move their caravans before yearly rent was due today were told that the firm charges 700 to remove the caravans from their pitch.
Today 62-year-old widow Mary Bryan, who's used the site for more than 20 years, said she was distraught that she could be forced to pay hundreds of pounds to leave the seafront site.
She said: "I was willing to pay the rent increase, until a raft of rules and regulations came in alongside it.
"We've been told that our plots can't be guaranteed, and I've got a beautiful seafront spot with lovely views. I wasn't willing to risk that.
"I've had quotes from firms who'd charge just a couple of hundred pounds to remove the caravan from the pitch and take it wherever I need to go, I've got friends who'd do it for free.
"But the new owners are charging at least 700 to remove the caravan from the pitch, then asking you to pay for your own loaded to take it away from the site.
"I'd be looking at 1,000 – it's money I'm just not willing to pay."
Another pensioner who has a pitch on the site, but wasn't willing to be named, said: "I've used this site for years without any problems, we've had excellent wardens and the council have had reasonable rates and flexible regulations.
"Now the whole thing has been sold off and we've been hit with these new regulations.
"Lots of people on the site are furious, some of these caravans cost 50,000, and now people face losing their ideal pitches because of a new owner."
When the Gazette contacted Nigel Thompson, boss of Northumbrian Leisure, about the complaints, he said: "The bottom line is, the people on that site have been able to do what they want for too long. It's been a free-for-all.
"At the moment they've been letting any Joe Bloggs come on to the campsite to remove caravans from their pitches, and damage can be caused.
"We're investing a lot of money into this site, and I arranged a site meeting to address any questions or concerns."
When we asked what would happen if owners attempted to remove their own caravans, rather than paying 700, he replied: "I don't like the tone of this conversation, I'm not going to get a fair hearing, I'm going to end this conversation now."
The Gazette contacted his central office by fax asking further questions, but there was no response.
A council spokesman confirmed that it used to allow tenants to bring their own private contractors on to the site to move caravans.
However, the spokesman added that the council was unaware these changes would come into force when it sold the land, as it was a 'commercial decision' on behalf of Northumbrian Leisure. It therefore couldn't forewarn caravan owners.
All contracts are governed by legislation that predominately means they should be fair.
Should consumers feel that they are subject to any unfair terms in anything they buy they can get advice and assistance from either Consumer Direct on 08454 040 506 or Trading Standards Directly on 0191 424 4402.