Bill would expand rights of mobile home park tenants after years of complaints

By: - February 17, 2021 11:55 am

Carrie Presley of Dubuque speaks Feb. 19, 2020, at the Iowa Capitol at news conference advocating for legislation to protect mobile-home residents. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Steep, unexpected rent increases, utility hikes, reduced services and abrupt evictions are among the practices Iowa mobile home owners are calling on state lawmakers to address again this year.

“Please help us stay in our homes. Please stop out of town investors buying up trailer parks and raising our rent to the point we can no longer live in our homes,” Connie Simon, a resident of the Table Mound Mobile Home Park in Dubuque, wrote to lawmakers.

Table Mound is one of dozens Iowa mobile home parks that have been bought by out-of-state investment firms in the past few years, a trend occurring across the country.

Simon’s brief statement summed up many of the public comments filed to House File 442, a bill aimed at expanding some rights of people who own manufactured housing but rent the property under their home.

Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, noted lawmakers had received nine pages of written public comments on the bill, many from residents living in mobile homes. “These are single moms. They are veterans, they are people with disabilities, they are some of the most vulnerable in our community. And their stories in here are heart-wrenching. And they are asking us to help them,” she said.

House File 442 deals with numerous aspects of the relationship between the dwelling owner and the land owner, including:

Evictions: The bill limits the park owner’s ability to evict a tenant, restricting reasons to “material noncompliance with the rental agreement or park rules” or a “legitimate and material business reason” that doesn’t affect only one resident, such as a sale of the land. The landlord would have to provide at least three written notices of the violations dated 10 days apart. However, the bill also allows eviction for any reason with a 90-day notice, as long as it is not in retaliation for a tenant’s complaints or actions asserting specified rights.

Rent increases: Rent could not be increased more than once a year and a tenant must receive 120 days notice. Rent increases could not be levied as retaliation. Decreasing services or amenities that are included in the rental agreement without a change in rent to be paid would be considered a rent increase under the bill.

Utility charges: The bill deals with utilities in several ways, including forbidding landlords from overcharging a tenant for utilities provided and allowing no more than a $5 administrative fee per month for utility administration.

Sales of mobile home parks: The bill requires a 90-day notice to tenants prior to the sale of a mobile home park.

Representatives of the Manufactured Housing Association raised numerous objections to the legislation, including that the grounds for lease termination are unclear, that it restricts the property owner’s rights such as to increase rent, and that it treats mobile park owners differently than landlords of apartment complexes or other rental housing.

Tim Coonan, a lobbying for the association, said the bill imposes provisions that “we think are unfair, and also impose unreasonable restrictions on our ability to do what we’re very proud of and that’s provide an unsubsidized affordable housing option for Iowans.”

Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, the lead sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday he is striving for a balance of rights between people who own manufactured homes and those who own the land.

“It’s all about the property rights. But we cannot forget that park owners are not the only one that owns something in this equation. Mobile home owners also own something. They have property rights, and those can’t be dragged through the mud. They cannot lose their home, we’re talking about losing a home,” Lohse said.

Lohse said he believed lawmakers were nearing a compromise on similar legislation last year but they ran out of time when COVID-19 caused a month-long suspension of the legislative session.

Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, joined Lohse and Democratic Rep. Ross Wilburn of Ames in moving the bill to the full House Judiciary Committee. But, she said, she believes the legislation still needs work to find a compromise.

She said she believes some tenants are unrealistic in not expecting rent to increase over decades, but it’s also unfair to have steep increases with little notice. “So there’s got to be some happy medium here,” she said.

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