Business

Replying to politicians, mobile home park owners defend purchases, rent hikes

An empty lot is seen earlier this month where a mobile home resident moved away once residents were notified that their lot rent would increase at the Golf View Mobile Home Park in North Liberty. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
An empty lot is seen earlier this month where a mobile home resident moved away once residents were notified that their lot rent would increase at the Golf View Mobile Home Park in North Liberty. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

In responding to accusations of “predatory” business practices, a Utah mobile home park company restated to lawmakers how it had faced a high purchase price and the subsequent need to raise rents.

Havenpark Capital — which this year bought five Iowa mobile home parks and announced rent hikes ranging from 24 percent to 69 percent — was one of eight such companies to receive letters in late May from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a presidential candidate, with two co-signed by U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack.

The letter to Havenpark sought specific information from managing partners J. Anthony Antonelli and Robbie Pratt, including its park residents’ average and median income; lot rents before and after its site purchases; any restrictions on residents’ activities; and a list of profits shown to shareholders, investors or partners.

In its Tuesday reply, signed by Antonelli and Pratt, Havenpark did not supply the requested information, citing legal counsel.

Rather, the company reiterated that mobile home parks are “prime targets” for developers seeking to build retail, luxury apartments or office buildings, with the “unconscionable” potential result of a mass eviction of community residents.

Havenpark noted that it outbid developers to buy Golf View mobile home park in North Liberty and Midwest Country Estates in Waukee for a combined $29.7 million.

“Market forces dictated the purchase price of those two properties, which went far beyond what the current income on rent provided,” the company’s letter says.

“Taken together with the heavy capital commitment we’re making to ensure a good quality of life for our residents, we had to normalize the rents to the level of comparable manufactured home communities in the immediate area, otherwise we would effectively be ‘under water’ and unable to preserve their current use.”

The commitments, which Havenpark representatives previously have said amount to “well over $2 million,” are planned to entail infrastructure improvements, dog parks and playgrounds within the communities.

Havenpark also has touted the “generous, dependable” yield its park purchases could earn investors — in part because of minimal turnover among low-income tenants, who find moving their mobile homes elsewhere “difficult and very expensive.”

An understanding of the “burden” rent hikes pose for residents led Havenpark to stagger its increases at the North Liberty and Waukee parks over two years, starting July 1, with respective monthly increases of $75 and $100 compared to initial planned jumps of $166 and $205.

And Havenpark officials said in the letter it believes “there is a place” for new local, state and federal legislation “that would truly help the residents of manufactured homes.”

The company deems multiple proposals “worthy of exploration,” including refundable tax credits for renters paying more than 30 percent of their income from housing, as suggested by U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, also both presidential candidates.

The Havenpark letter also highlights legislation to give park residents greater notice of rent increases before they go into effect, a proposal from state Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, and to give federal tax incentives to park owners that sell the communities directly to residents, a current Booker proposal that historically has languished in Congress.

“The current laws, rules and regulations likely need to be updated to protect both residents and landowners alike,” Havenpark’s letter says.

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“Havenpark will continue to adhere to all current and future municipal, state and federal rules regarding the operation of manufactured home communities.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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