IOWA LEGISLATURE

Mobile home park rent regulation won't advance in Iowa Legislature

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 Golf View Mobile Home Park in North Liberty this past June. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Nearly two hours after key lawmakers declared legislation to regulate mobile home park owners dead, tenants called on the Legislature to give them more protections from predatory landlords.

“We need your help,” Margarita Rodriguez of Forest View Mobile Home Court in Iowa City said at a Statehouse news conference attended by a handful of sympathetic legislators. “Under current law, there is nothing we can do to hold owners accountable.”

However, House File 235, which would “initiate some price controls, is something we as free market folks, are not comfortable with,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steven Holt, R-Denison.

“Is it the role of government to regulate every aspect of this relationship” between tenant and landlord, said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, floor manager of a companion bill, Senate File 2238. “As a free market legislator, the answer is no.”

Despite their obituaries for the bills, Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, whose district includes the Golf View Mobile Home Park in North Liberty, held out hope to work out a compromise.

“The fact that this is now being held up at the eleventh hour is outrageous,” Wahls told the mobile homeowners.

The deadline for bills to win committee approval in one chamber or the other to remain eligible for consideration this year is Friday.

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“I would hope that we are able to work through the disagreements ... and find legislation to get Iowans the protection they need.”

Holt and Chapman called the protections Wahls and other proponents of the bills are seeking — what they called rent control — go too far for free market Republicans who control the Legislature.

Holt, who said he lived in a manufactured “because that’s what I could afford as a private in the Marine Corps,” said he and other legislators will look for ways to provide protections for mobile home park residents “without doing the harm this bill potentially could do to those who own these properties.”

“These mobile home parks provide a growing important level of affordable housing,” he said, “and we have to be careful that the decisions we make don’t render those things not economically feasible anymore.”

However, the “unintended consequences” of the legislation could be a barrier to the affordable housing needed to grow jobs in Iowa, Chapman said.

“If we regulate them to the point they are not affordable, what will happen? The land will be developed,” Chapman said.

Holt said lawmakers were concerned that any legislation to control rent would open the door to rent controls in rental housing.

“There’s a lot of philosophical issues here that we have to we have to work through,” Holt said. “When we start going down the price control road that is something that we all need to be very concerned about.”

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Wahls rejected the argument that the legislation calls for rent control. Instead, he said, it would require “rent justification.” The proposal is based on legislation from other states, specifically Delaware, a state “not known to be hostile to business interests.”

He also said the equity firms buying the parks are not looking to develop the land, but want the steady stream of income lot rental provides.

The proposed legislation does not target those “local, Iowa owner-operators who are doing the right thing,” Wahls said. “We need to make sure we have protection to make sure that Iowan in these communities that are now owned by out-of-state predatory companies are protected by the law. That they are not being just treated as dollar signs on a spreadsheet.”

There are other protections lawmakers could enact “without going down the price control road,” Holt said. That could include requiring park owners giving more notice of rent increases and looking at what are appropriate causes for eviction, Holt said.

“You know, again, we’re talking about several bad actors that are impacting a lot of other folks who are doing it right and have done it right for many, many, many years,” Holt said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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