Mobile Home Parks – Homeowner Risks and Rewards

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What Could Go Wrong With Mobile Home Parks? Are There Surprises?

Man entangled by questions

Not all mobile home parks are problematic, nor are all landlords predatory. For a perspective, be sure to check out “What could go right” and “The mobile home park industry“.

The buyout of mobile home parks by large profit-seeking companies is increasing. If you move into a “good” park, you usually will not know if, and when, it may be sold to one of these park aggregators who may change your opinion of the landlord and change your living conditions and costs.

Below are some issues reported by mobile home owners in parks. Many mobile homeowners report that these problems first emerged to their surprise. Others report continual unresolved problems. Unprepared homeowners can experience shock from unexpected surprises. These sudden events can result in feelings of helplessness, psychological stress and decreased health for homeowners due to feelings of lost housing and financial security.

Problems Caused by Mobile Home Park Owners

One of the greatest fears of homeowners in mom-and-pop owned parks is that the park will be sold to a large corporation, especially a predatory one. This can result in many of the problems presented below: extreme rent increases, loss of home resale value, cuts to staffing and maintenance, management turnover and park resident turnover, to name a few. Some mobile homeowners are unaware of this potential for dramatic change until it happens to them (see “The mobile home park industry” for more details).

Ever-Higher Rent Raises and Lost Resale Value of the Home (a Financial Double-Whammy)

Elderly Couple With Rent Increase Notice

As rents rise, the overall cost of living in the park rises, making it less affordable. Mobile home sale asking prices are forced down as fresh home buyers see the park as less desirable and lenders impose limits on the applicant’s overall costs (mortgage plus land rent). Homeowners who manage to sell may not see any return on their housing equity and may experience a significant loss on their housing investment.

Homeowners Forced Out of the Mobile Home Park – Economic Eviction

Homeowners may need to leave the park to escape ever-higher rents. To do that, they must sell their homes to escape the rent liability. Retirees on fixed incomes are vulnerable, as are low-income laborers. What was originally thought of as “affordable housing” becomes gentrified, expensive housing.

Park Maintenance and Management Quality Drops

This can happen in spite of higher rents being charged. The additional income from rent increases may not be significantly reinvested in the park but distributed to wealthy investors or used to purchase more parks. This also lowers the resale value of the homes as parks slowly deteriorate and the desirability and attractiveness of the neighborhood falls.

Mobile Home Park Resident Turnover

Some parks, that once contained settled homeowners, begin to experience more short-term residents. Higher numbers of homeowners list their homes for sale due to the need to escape ever-higher rent costs. Turnover of home ownership reduces a sense of community and neighborhood bonds. Organizing attempts by homeowner rights advocates become difficult due to the shorter-term stays of homeowners in a rapidly changing community.

Park Infrastructure Deterioration and Breakdown

Depending on how well the owners have maintained the park over the years, there can be storm drainage issues, tap water shutoff or contamination issues, sewage spills, electrical problems, street deterioration, and other issues.

Some park owners skimp on reinvesting in the park infrastructure because there are more profitable uses for the money, such as buying more parks in which to raise rents.

A well-designed, well-maintained park should be free of chronic infrastructure problems and be a reliable, safe place for long-term living. Often, park residents aren’t fully aware of infrastructure because pipes are buried underground and lack regular inspection. If there is an inspection, residents may not be privy to full disclosure of the conditions – even though their investment is utterly dependent upon them.

Sometimes mobile home owners tolerate unreliable infrastructure even though they pay for good park maintenance in their rent bill. They may fear additional rent hikes that the landlords can impose for financing repairs.

When Complaints, Lawsuits and Penalties Don’t Bring Permanent Improvement

Even though a resident group succeeds at achieving specific park landlord changes for the better, the overall behavior of the park owner may continue in the same vein that generated the complaints. A specific problem may get temporary attention, sometimes the bare minimum. But other similar problems occur – the overall landlord’s business operation policy does not change. Residents may report they are paying for good park management in their ever-increasing rent bills—but are not getting it and must monitor the park themselves, spotting problems and complaining about each and every one of them – endlessly.

Interference With Sales of the Mobile Home

In the process of selling their home, some homeowners report management delays in the approval of new lot renters, or the park management requires the homeowner to make expensive and time-consuming repairs to the home before they will approve a new buyer. The time delays may wear out potential buyers, who drop their offers and move on.

Lost Financial Security

Continual rent increases may deplete mobile home owners’ savings accounts so that financial security is lost.

Shelter Insecurity

Once a park becomes unpredictable, homeowners find it difficult to find practical and affordable alternatives, creating psychological stress.

The Park Changes to an All-Age Community

Parks that were originally age-restricted, senior-only parks may be opened to all ages of homeowners, much to the dismay of existing seniors and retirees who specifically sought those parks and expected them to stay that way. Often, these changes are accompanied by rent increases that only the younger homeowners or couples with two incomes can afford.

The Park is Slated for Closure

Long-term park residents may be informed that the park is closing for redevelopment, causing a loss of housing security and a drop in home values toward zero. Homeowners find they have to move and give up their only home, but the only practical nearby shelter is too expensive and cramped.

Mobile home being demolished

Restrictions on Mobile Home Owners

Additional concerns may be park owners requiring a Right of First Refusal agreement (ROFR), Right of First Offer (ROFO) or forbearance agreements that reduce homeowner options.

Park Management Turnover and Lack of Qualifications

Many jurisdictions have legal requirements for park employees to be present 24/7 in case there are emergencies, breakdowns, or to help residents—ensuring health and safety. Residents report that on-site managers are sometimes absent or unavailable.

Park managers may change too often, resulting in inexperienced, inefficient, incompetent and absent managers. Some jurisdictions require managers to be trained and even certified, other jurisdictions don’t, or show weak enforcement. Homeowner relationships with temporary management may not have time to develop. Good managers tend to know the particulars of their park, but these details may be lost on newbies, who may not be motivated to learn, expecting a short stay.

General Park Instability

All of the above, along with management turnover, absentee management, cuts in staffing and maintenance, and higher rent, can contribute to parks becoming less stable and reliable for settled and affordable living.

Homeowners Cannot Make Long-Term Plans

As presented here, increasing park instability and unpredictability make it difficult to plan for self-sufficiency. This plight often affects those very homeowners whom we wish the most success.

Fake or Impractical Mobile Home Owner Assistance Programs

When lot-renters express dismay at the increasing unaffordable rent increases, some park owners or their associations may offer financial “assistance” programs that smack of public relations ploys. These unaudited and mysterious programs may help only a few and for a limited time.

Some say these programs are actually political escape mechanisms provided by park owner associations. And that they serve to give city leaders, who are reluctant to help their citizens, a way to excuse themselves from their responsibility to preserve affordable housing and prevent the exploitation of financially trapped homeowners.

Unhealthy Mobile Home Parks

When management cuts maintenance, neglects infrastructure, and does not patrol their park, the risk of health issues can increase. Also, management is expected to cite homeowners for failure to maintain their home and rental lot. But with a skeleton crew, they cannot do a consistent job. Under these minimum staffing conditions, parks slowly lose safety and reliability and the buildings can deteriorate into unhealthy states.

Little to No help From the City, County, State and Federal Governments

Local county or state governments may be controlled by an economic ideology that is against tenant rights and doesn’t see affordable housing as a foundation for economic prosperity. These beliefs may be reinforced by park owner association lobbying, public relations and “training” programs or other efforts to control public leaders’ thinking. Government leaders may favor wealthy businesses that fund their campaigns. However, some states and localities are more advanced than others; check the specifics for your location.

Poor Press Coverage of Mobile Home Park Issues

More communities are losing their local newspapers. Once these watchdogs are gone, there will be less scrutiny of predatory business practices and government corruption. News coverage may characterize disputes about park business practices as one-off events or merely as squabbles between a particular landlord and a set of tenants. It may fail to cover the big picture—the trend of park acquisition and homeowner exploitation across the country.

News reporters may focus entirely on episodic events. They may fail to provide in-depth investigative journalism. They may leave out history, context, and systemic details that could better inform the public. They may fail to commit to continuing coverage of the evolving story over longer time spans.

It’s impossible to understand what is happening today without addressing short- and long-term historical contexts (e.g., racial oppression, structural inequality, etc.).

Doug McLeod, June 25, 2020, Five problems with how the media cover protests,

Negative Public Opinion of Mobile Homes, Stigma, Blaming the Victim

The undeserved negative public opinion of mobile home parks and guilt by association is explained on this page.

Lack of Mobile Home Park Laws or Their Enforcement

Mobile home park systems are complicated enough to deserve their own laws. Across the USA are wide arrays of laws, or lack thereof, which apply to mobile home parks. Yet some residents report not knowing that there are laws that may apply to them and their landlord.

Protective laws help establish some sense of order and predictability that park residents depend upon. Even if appropriate laws exist in a particular locality, they may not be well followed or enforced. Because these laws are civil laws (as opposed to criminal law), it can be upon the homeowners’ shoulders to document a chronic violation and attempt to remedy it themselves, even escalating it to a court of law – at their own expense.

Some jurisdictions have inspectors that can enforce park health and safety requirements, but those governments need to have the budget and political will to enforce the laws consistently. Park residents should know their state, county and city laws about mobile home parks and the likelihood of their consistent enforcement. Applicable laws and their enforcement are factors in determining the level of risk associated with living in a mobile home park. Mobile home owners need to be educated, vigilant and organized to safeguard their homes.

Lack of Legal Help for Mobile Home Owners

When high rent hits mobile home owners, they may have little cash reserves for emergencies. If they feel they are being mistreated, such as by an unfair eviction, they may not be able to afford an adequate legal defense in court. When defendants try to represent themselves against a trained professional (the park owner’s attorney), the odds are overwhelming that they will lose their case. Some regions may provide pro bono (free) legal help while other regions leave it up to the mobile homeowner to fend for himself.

Homeowners Not Involved in Their Housing and Civic Affairs

Mobile home park homeowners are utterly dependent on good, fair park management and good, concerned government responses. But these supportive systems are not automatic. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and citizens need to be engaged and watch the laws that protect them. In mobile home parks, there are two property owners, the landlord and the mobile home owner, who may be at odds with each other. Owning a home permanently attached to rented land requires more education and vigilance than other forms of housing.

Democracy is a fragile gift. When citizens don’t manage their government and laws, they may lose their protections and rights. Park owners have trade associations, lobbyists and public relations organizations to continually influence the government and the laws. But the mobile home owners have the numbers and ability to organize, if they will do so.

Too often, mobile home residents are oblivious and living in bliss, uneducated, unprepared and blind to the potential risks of park home ownership. Then they express surprise and dismay when their park’s management undergoes sudden changes and they feel helpless to do anything about it. When risk suddenly increases (such as their park being sold overnight to a predatory corporation), these inexperienced residents have a steep learning curve to overcome, often with little or no helpful guidance.

Often, to overcome problems with powerful landlords, mobile home owners need to organize and work as a group. But organizing skills and strategy may be lacking, causing residents to blunder or be slowed by long learning curves with incremental progress.

Unprepared for the potentially long battles ahead, mobile home owners may become dismayed and discouraged when quick fixes to problems don’t materialize and setbacks occur. Park owners seem to know this and their strategy may be to prolong the political and legal battles and wait until affected mobile homeowners tire and give up trying, often selling their homes at a loss.

The lack of homeowner organization and focus, the lack of legal help and homeowner group infighting may hasten the abandonment of organizing efforts.

Quality help from associations, advocates and activists may be sparse, disorganized, or only partial, not fully informing the residents—instead focusing them on inefficient strategies.

Some park residents may avoid involvement with an advocacy organization because they believe their name may go on the park owner’s list and set them up for retaliation. Some homeowners report being targeted for particularly harsh rule enforcement, or delays in approving a buyer for their homes.

– Other Risks –

Park and Home Location Problems

  • The park may be located on low or unstable ground, prone to flooding.
  • Park locations may be in industrial zones subject to pollution or noise.
  • A house, or the entire park may be situated on unstable ground, needing periodic leveling.

House and Lot Problems

  • Lack of homeowner insurance exposes the homeowner to acts of nature—fire, flooding, and wind damage—with the potential loss of the entire home and an inability to recover.
  • Unattended house leakage, water damage and aging may cause expensive repairs.
  • Unmanaged cosmetic and structural needs may grow and balloon into expensive problems.
  • Vapor barrier deterioration or other moisture accumulation issues may promote mold growth in the house, a toxic hazard.
  • Park managers may cite homeowners to make expensive home repairs.
  • The house may not have been thoroughly inspected by competent professionals before purchase, and expensive mandatory repairs are required to restore it to habitability standards.
  • Neighbor issues—noisiness, untidiness, etc.—sometimes enabled by management neglecting to enforce park rules.

– Ideals to Strive for –

What is a Stable, Predictable Mobile Home Park?

Below are some major items that help establish mobile home park housing as a reliable, affordable community asset. Here is a checklist of things to look for in a fairly-run park.

  • Rent increases should be fair and predictable and if need be, enforced by sympathetic local government.
  • Homeowners should receive advance notice of rent increases several years ahead of the event, a minimum of 5 years or more would help homeowners with financial planning.
  • Residents should be given the option to band together and buy their park and decide what it really costs to operate the business.
  • If the residents are unable to buy their park when available, a nonprofit should be given the option to buy the park.
  • Homeowners should be fully compensated for the loss of their homes upon park closure and relocation services should be provided.
  • Age-restricted senior parks should be required to remain that way unless a majority of the homeowners agree to the change.
  • Enough Park profits should be retained in a special account for emergencies and infrastructure repair and upgrade.
  • Homeowners should be at the decision table as stakeholders, participating in decisions about park sales, rent increases, park maintenance, and infrastructure upgrades.
  • There should be advance notice of the plans and schedules for park monitoring, park upgrades, park repairs, and Rules and Regulations enforcement – what homeowners are paying for.
  • All interactions with government leaders and government employees by park owners, their representatives, lobbyists, “trainers” and public relations consultants should be made public and the park homeowners given equal time and good faith consideration.
  • Homeowners should be able to rely on park owners performing their duties on time.
  • Homeowners need easy access to government and professional reports on park inspections and other activities that affect the welfare of the community.
  • The mobile home community needs responsive park management available 24/7 with timely responses to complaints and significant attention to park conditions.
  • Homeowners should find it easy to work with park management to reduce or abate complaints on time.
  • Homeowners should receive enough reliable information to make long-term financial plans based on stable, predictable trends.
  • Homeowners should have a quiet place for prosperity, free of stress and filled with pride of home ownership (see What could go right).

What is Being Done to Restore Park Stability for Those Seeking Reliable, Affordable Housing?

In places, mobile home owners have shown they can beat the odds and organize, educate and push back against unfair conditions. These patriots realize that much of the good established in America has come from citizens pushing for better conditions. The housing crisis and the rising dominance of wealthy investors, seeking profit over people, have generated growing pushback. Unfortunately, in some areas, good changes are slow to arrive.

Will the homeowners achieve justice? If some fairness is achieved, will homeowners remain involved with their civics and prevent deterioration of their rights? The answers to those questions will determine the future of this excellent form of affordable housing.

This form of housing has great potential to solve many social and environmental problems. With affordable housing stabilized, citizens can devote their energies to improving the world. That is the goal—the light at the end of the tunnel.

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