Mobile home park bill advances in House

By: - March 15, 2022 5:21 pm

An Iowa mobile home park. (Photo by Google Earth)

A bill that would lengthen the amount of notice given to mobile home park residents of evictions and rent increases from 60 to 90 days was advanced by an Iowa House committee Tuesday despite objections that it doesn’t include other provisions to further protect those residents.

House File 2441 was previously approved by a different House committee last month but was taken up by the Ways and Means committee because of a provision that exempts mobile homes located in such parks from property taxes.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said the tax exemption does little to assuage the concerns of some mobile home owners whose parks have been purchased by out-of-state companies in recent years that have dramatically raised rents or other fees.

“Even though we are technically reducing my costs by $200, easily my rent can go up 500%,” Jacoby said Tuesday of mobile home owners.

Relief for those residents has been elusive at the Statehouse in recent years. In January 2020, Attorney General Tom Miller said Iowa law should be amended to limit rent increases to a certain percentage that can only happen once each year and to include increased eviction protections, among others.

“Consumers have reported rent increases of up to 69 percent; utility fees that exceed the landlords’ actual costs for service; arbitrary fees and fines that raise their costs even more; lack of clear title to their manufactured homes; being forced to move for no reason and then losing their homes; and other problems,” Miller’s office said at the time.

Proposed legislation last year that has some of the same attributes as the current House bill but also limited rent increases to once each year did not get enough support to become law.

Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, the lead sponsor of both bills, said his current, scaled-back proposal is a palatable compromise for his fellow lawmakers that will provide some assistance to mobile home park residents.

The Iowa Manufactured Housing Association has been a major opponent of previous bills but has declared its support for the current bill.

Extending the amount of notice for rent increases and the termination of rental agreements is important for mobile home park residents who own their home but might face difficulties moving it, logistically or financially. Some parks have required residents to modify their homes in a manner that makes them less mobile, such as removing their hitches to make them more aesthetically pleasing. The new bill limits such modifications.

While some of the bill’s elements are helpful, the attorney general’s office opposes it because it doesn’t limit rent and fee increases, doesn’t require legitimate reasons for evictions and has the potential to shorten eviction timelines in some circumstances.

“Given the fact that it doesn’t address the biggest issues that brought everybody to the table, what we’re concerned about is that people feel like they’ve done something that’s going to help tenants a lot, and they haven’t,” Nathan Blake, the state’s chief deputy attorney general, told Iowa Capital Dispatch. “Sometimes when they feel like they have, the attention doesn’t get paid in future (legislative) sessions.”

Aside from the notice extensions and tax abatements, the new bill also:

— Specifies that utility costs and other fees are subject to the same notifications for increases as rent, with some exceptions.
— Protects mobile home owners from retaliation by landlords for up to one year after the resident alleges a tenant’s rights violation.
— Provides remedies for residents if landlords don’t supply essential services such as running water.
— Requires landlords to provide a written rationale for denying a new tenant who buys an existing mobile home at a park.

“It’s great that we’re finally seeing some light of day on the mobile home dilemma that we have right now,” Jacoby said, “but I also know that one of the families that’s been working on this so diligently is saying that, ‘Once again, we’re zero for five in any aspect of the things we were asking for some improvement, and we just want to make improvements so we can go to work tomorrow morning.’”

The bill was recommended Tuesday by a 16-9 vote in the House Ways and Means committee. There’s no similar bill currently under consideration in the Senate.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.