Residents at Iowa’s manufactured housing parks have watched with concern as the novel coronavirus pandemic spreads across the state.
The communities’ demographics include elderly, disabled and low-income individuals, many of whom are especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease and its related disruptions.
When not in isolation, some make use of resident networks — formed after out-of-state park buyers announced steep lot rent hikes last year — to care for neighbors.
Carrie Presley, who lives in Table Mound Mobile Home Park in Dubuque, said she and other residents have kept in touch over social media. Some residents have volunteered to pick up groceries or prescriptions for elderly neighbors who do not want to risk leaving home or now cannot use public transportation, Presley said.
“Things are tight, and I think everyone is feeling that,” she said. “We’re all staying together as a tight community as best as we can.”
A complicating factor for some Table Mound residents is the persistence of rent and tenancy hardships during the pandemic, despite state and federal moratoriums on most evictions.
Presley, who heads Table Mound’s neighborhood association, said at least six park residents Monday received three-day legal notices over late April rent payments.
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Under normal circumstances, if a resident does not pay rent within three days of receiving a “notice of termination of rental agreement and notice to quit” form, a park owner could start eviction proceedings under Iowa’s forcible entry and detainer process.
An online legal summary from Des Moines-based law firm Davis Brown, which represents the Iowa Manufactured Housing Association, advises that park owners still can send non-legal reminder notices to residents who miss rent payments, alerting them of the owner’s right to pursue a future eviction.
But Alex Kornya, Iowa Legal Aid’s litigation director, in viewing a copy of one of Table Mound’s notices, said those forms are “explicitly prohibited” by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ emergency order.
Among other provisions, her proclamation restricts most evictions, both for manufactured housing park residents and other renters, except in cases where someone is residing in a unit where the person never had a lease or right to live there, and for other “emergency situations allowed by law.”
Specifically, Kornya said, manufactured housing parks cannot evict residents over unpaid rent or material non-compliance with lease provisions until Reynolds’ order ends on April 30.
As such, he continued, residents still must make their April rent payments but legally have until April 30 to do so.
Under Iowa’s current “no cause” eviction system, Kornya said, park owners still can end residents’ leases after giving proper notice — albeit not for unpaid rent or lease non-compliance — though those residents also cannot be removed from their homes during the proclamation period.
A representative of Impact Communities, the out-of-state entity that owns Table Mound, named in the park notices, did not return a request for comment.
In helping park residents field the notices, Presley said, “Some (homes) can’t pay until next Friday, or are down to one person working, and it’s going against what the president and governor are saying. This is not the time to instill fear in people.”
Kornya said a park owner that continues to serve eviction process notices despite Iowa’s moratorium could face “significant liability,” including from lawsuits and state regulators.
Impact Communities, formerly known as RV Horizons, belongs to Colorado-based MHP Funds LLC, which oversees at least 28 manufactured housing parks in Iowa.
A Gazette investigation found that MHP Funds started eviction proceedings against at least 106 households at 17 parks it acquired since 2018, or 53.5 percent of the 198 known eviction proceedings out-of-state owners initiated at 34 communities bought since 2018.
Other park owners have made different adjustments in light of COVID-19.
Candi Evans, 71, who lives at Golf View Mobile Home Park in North Liberty, said Utah-based owner Havenpark Capital alerted residents that it delayed a scheduled $35, or 25-percent, rent increase for two months, from April 1 to June 1.
The day before, on March 31, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-West Des Moines, wrote a letter to Havenpark’s principals, requesting the delay and information on compliance with a CARES Act provision forbidding evictions at federally-mortgaged communities.
Havenpark spokesperson Josh Weiss said in an email Thursday that the company never received any outreach from Axne’s office and independently informed residents of its rent delay on March 26. The delay will be in effect for at least two months, he said.
“We are committed to working with our residents who are experiencing hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Weiss said.
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Golf View’s management also has stopped accepting in-person rent payments at its front office, and instead asked residents to use a drop box outside or a new online portal, Evans said.
Evans, the vice president of Golf View’s residents association, said to her knowledge no park residents have received three-day notices over unpaid rent so far.
She expressed concern over people she identified as non-residents visiting Golf View’s playground and dog park, which remain accessible on the private community property despite state prohibitions.
Weiss said, on March 26, Havenpark advised residents that all community amenities are temporarily closed, and the company currently is evaluating measures — like new signage and caution tape — to ensure non-residents know the amenities are not available for use.
Evans and other neighbors have aimed to keep young park residents occupied by placing stuffed animals in their windows for them to find while venturing out, scavenger hunt-style.
“They’ve been cooped up for weeks and need to run off some energy,” Evans said of her community’s children. “Unfortunately, they need to find other ways to do that.”
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