Government

Rep. Abby Finkenauer to FTC: 'Predatory and unfair' manufactured housing purchases warrant investigation

#x201c;I am incredibly concerned that hardworking Iowans are being taken advantage of by out-of-state companies looking
“I am incredibly concerned that hardworking Iowans are being taken advantage of by out-of-state companies looking to make a quick and easy buck,” U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer wrote in a letter to the FTC about manufactured park owners. (The Gazette)

U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer on Tuesday became the latest Iowa representative to take a stand on the hardships rent hikes create for the state’s manufactured housing park residents.

Rather than write to the out-of-state park owners, Finkenauer sent a letter to Joseph Simons, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, encouraging an investigation into the companies’ “predatory and unfair business practices.”

Low-income park residents must choose between losing their homes and paying rising rates when out-of-state companies buy manufactured housing parks and enact steep rent and fee increases to maximize their returns, the letter outlines.

“I am incredibly concerned that hardworking Iowans are being taken advantage of by out-of-state companies looking to make a quick and easy buck,” said Finkenauer in an accompanying news release.

“Mobile and manufactured home park residents in our district are fighting back and I will continue standing with them because these stories are heartbreaking.

“I also want these so-called investors, looking to get rich off exploiting Iowans, to know this treatment of people in our state will not stand. I believe these companies are bad actors and that they need to be investigated.”

In her letter, the 1st District representative cited “troubling” stories from residents at Table Mound Mobile Home Park in Dubuque, where Cedaredge, Colo.-based Impact Communities — also known as RV Horizons — introduced rent increases and utility fees after buying the community in 2017.

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Also name-dropped in Finkenauer’s letter was Havenpark Capital, of Orem, Utah, which in spring 2019 announced 58 percent and 69 percent increases respectively at North Liberty’s Golf View Mobile Home Court and Waukee’s Midwest Country Estates.

Rep. Abby Finkenauer letter to Federal Trade Commission on mobile home business practices by Gazetteonline on Scribd

The company agreed to stagger those increases into 2020 after tenants organized into residents associations to push back.

Impact Communities owns at least 12 manufactured housing communities in Iowa while Havenpark owns at least eight, an analysis by The Gazette found.

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.

Finkenauer called attention to the multi-thousand-dollar costs of relocating a manufactured home and “disturbing” leases clauses, including ones indicating security deposits would not fully be refunded and prohibiting residents from moving their homes without their landlord’s written permission.

She also highlighted “numerous” consumer complaints against investors with Impact Communities and Havenpark, and a previous FTC investigation into a personal care multilevel marketing company where two Havenpark partners were top executives in the 1990s.

That company, Nu Skin, in 1994 paid a $1 million fine over claims of deceptive advertising and overstating income, the Des Moines Register reported.

“With complaints in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, this is a national issue and undoubtedly one that merits an investigation,” Finkenauer said in her letter. “Mobile and manufactured homes have been a long-standing option for affordable housing and our hardworking families deserve basic protections no matter where they live.”

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U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Iowa Rep. Dave Loebsack in May sent letters to eight mobile homebuying companies, as did U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, 3rd District, in June.

Axne on Tuesday unveiled legislation calling for a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant program, under which not-for-profits and resident-formed groups could receive awards up to $1 million to buy and maintain manufactured housing parks.

The bill includes oversight provisions to ensure rents at those parks stay affordable after they’re purchased.

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

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