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Iowa Legislature called to reform 'inadequate and exploitable' manufactured housing laws

An empty lot stands where a mobile home resident moved away once residents were notified that their lot rent would incre
An empty lot stands where a mobile home resident moved away once residents were notified that their lot rent would increase at the Golfview Mobile Home Park in North Liberty Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Proposed protections for residents of Iowa manufactured housing parks are back on the table in Des Moines.

And those protections couldn’t be passed into law soon enough, several park residents shared Saturday. They shared struggles about making ends meet after out-of-state companies bought their communities and hiked lot rents up to 69 percent.

At least 85 residents, affordable housing advocates and local elected officials packed a public hearing Saturday afternoon at the state Capitol. Aides dragged folding chairs into the chamber to accommodate the crowd.

Spearheaded by state Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, the hearing allowed attendees to weigh in on the need for reform. More than 18 people spoke.

Jean Parker, a 33-year resident of Golfview Mobile Home Park in North Liberty, said her lot rent increased 58 percent this spring, after Orem, Utah-based Havenpark Capital bought the community.

Eviction is ‘opportunity’ to some companies

Under new management and their lease, there’s a tone suggesting “any infractions can lead to eviction,” said Parker, who is retired. She now must seek permission to grow tomatoes on her property, she said.

“These people do not consider eviction as a nuisance, they consider it as an opportunity, because if I can’t move my trailer and if I can’t live in my trailer, it is abandoned and they can take possession of it,” Parker said. “Havenpark has said that what they do is legal. I hope you (lawmakers) take that as a challenge, because otherwise, you’re going to be allowing them to take us to the cleaners.”

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Numerous other attendees hailed from Dubuque, where Cedaredge, Colo.-based Impact Communities, also known as RV Horizons, bought the Table Mound Mobile Home Park about two years ago and raised rent and utility fees.

Brett Shaw, a Dubuque City Council member, said Iowa’s “inadequate and exploitable” laws governing manufactured housing create a situation “ripe for predators.”

Of the so-called “mobile” homes, Shaw said, “Not only is it often impossible to move them, but these homeowners have a vested financial interest in doing everything possible, including paying unreasonable rents and fees, in order to keep their possessions.”

Landlord-tenant law blind spots

The hearing Saturday also highlighted blind spots in Iowa’s landlord-tenant laws governing the manufactured housing communities.

Unlike with Iowa apartment renters, the state’s manufactured housing owners are not automatically refunded security deposits or prepaid rent after leases are terminated, said Ben Bellus, assistant state attorney general.

Owners of manufactured houses also can’t seek damages from landlords who knowingly include illegal provisions in leases, Bellus said.

Some attendees representing the manufactured housing industry asked state lawmakers to exercise caution.

Rather than pushing legislation that paints the entire industry with a “gigantic brush,” said Troy Hames, of Cedar Rapids-based Hames Homes, lawmakers “should look at the whole picture.”

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“Ninety-nine percent of us in the state are good owner-operators,” Hames said. “If I could, I’d buy Table Mound mobile home community and the rest of your communities. I feel your pain. You’re being mistreated.”

Lawmakers also ought to take into consideration the “fiscal realities” of owning a manufactured housing community, said Jodie McDougal, an attorney representing the Iowa Manufactured Housing Association, of which she said both Havenpark and Impact Communities are “active” members.

“I think it’s really important that we have all the information on all of the realities so that we can do what I think everyone wants, which is to maintain a good source of affordable housing that’s needed in Iowa,” McDougal said. “In particular, we don’t want these homes, these communities to go to developers who are going to take it away and close it down and turn it into apartment complexes or commercial.”

Not all residents were persuaded. The crowd applauded one woman who questioned the rent-raising companies, “How do you sleep at night?”

Expanded notice bill failed in legislature

The Iowa Senate this spring unanimously advanced a bill to require owners of manufactured housing parks to give residents a 180-day notice of rent increases, rather than the current 60 days. The measure failed to make it through the state House, however, before the session closed.

Across 80 of Iowa’s 99 counties, there are at least 550 manufactured housing communities, encompassing 35,443 units, according to the Iowa State Association of Counties.

Of those communities, 414 were owned by in-state entities. The remaining 136 were owned out of state, including what Wahls said were 38 acquired since 2018.

“It is my deep hope that the mom-and-pop operators in this state who have for a long time done the right thing ... will continue to make affordable housing an option for Iowa residents and that they will join us in fighting back against rent gouging from greedy out-of-state companies that don’t see Iowans, they see dollar signs,” said Wahls.

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The state senator later added, “We deserve better than what is happening right now. Period.”

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

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