MOBILE HOME PARKS

The Sunset Hills Mobile Park in Colorado Springs.

A bill designed to better protect residents of mobile home parks won state House approval Monday on a 41-23 vote.

House Bill 1309 next heads to the state Senate.

Such bills die year after year in the Senate under majority Republicans, who opposed the measures as unduly burdensome to businesses.

Now Democrats are in charge. Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, will carry the bill in the Senate.

Operators of mobile home communities say it would add another layer of bureaucracy and unfairly pressure park owners who act in good faith.

Its author, state Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, said she has seven mobile home parks in her district and about 20 countywide. Such homes are less expensive than a condo or house, she noted.

“The mobile home has offered a path to the American dream on a budget,” Esther Sullivan, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, told Curbed magazine in 2017.

But mobile home parks have operated under a loose regulatory structure for decades, Hooton said. The only recourse for a mobile home owner with a complaint often is to take the park owner to court, and that’s out of reach financially for most, she said.

The state’s Mobile Home Parks Act was adopted in 1985 but lacks teeth, critics say.

Last year, after the failure of yet another bill to rein in park owners who violate the law, the Department of Regulatory Agencies took a look at whether park owners understood the 1985 act and whether licensing would force better compliance. DORA determined that owners understand the law but licensing was not the right step.

So Hooton and co-sponsor Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, turned to the dispute-resolution model established a couple of years ago in Washington state, which set up a mediation process to resolve complaints by mobile-home owners. About 400 complaints were filed the first year, but the numbers steadily have dropped as “bad actors” have learned the consequences, Hooton said.

Under HB 1309, the Department of Local Affairs’ Division of Housing could accept complaints from mobile home owners and mediate between them and the park owner. A $24 fee per lot, split between park and mobile home owners, would pay for the process.

If the mediation fails, either side could take the issue to an administrative law judge, avoiding the greater cost of going to court.

The bill tries to navigate around laws that let home-rule cities and counties impose their own regulations. Home rule cities and counties — including Colorado Springs, Denver, Broomfield and Weld and Pitkin counties — pass their own rules for mobile home parks, Hooton said.

But most of those parks are in unincorporated parts of counties, she said. Under HB 1309, a county could set up its own mediation process. Absent that, the homeowner could go straight to the Department of Local Affairs for help.

The third part of the bill deals with evictions. Under current law, a mobile home owner can be evicted from a park on a 48-hour notice. But finding another place for their home often is difficult, with mobile home space at a premium.

So many people wind up abandoning their mobile home, which the park owner then sells or rents. It’s unfair to homeowners, Hooton said.

HB 1309 extends that eviction period to 30 days, and if the homeowner needs more time, he can pay the lot fees to extend it another 30 days.

The bill was supported before the House by mobile home owners; 9 to 5 Colorado, an advocacy group for working women; and the Colorado Senior Lobby.

Debra Beasley of Colorado Springs, in written testimony April 10, said she and her husband have seen lot fees at their mobile home park increase from $475 in 2016 to more than $750 last year.

Park owners and managers often ignore complaints, Beasley said, even when the parking lot lights have been out for months, a danger for seniors.

Bill opponents include park owners and some residents who say their mobile home parks are great places to live.

“I would hate to see the whole system upended ... and redone, because the system in place now works,” said Rolf Harrison of Rocky Mountain Mobile Home Communities, which operates mobile home parks in Broomfield.

The park owners object most to the longer time for an eviction, said Norm Sorenson of Kingsley Management Corp., which operates seven mobile home communities in Colorado, according to its website.

A recent eviction of a drug dealer was delayed, despite the company’s best efforts, during which residents were threatened, Sorenson said.

“If that eviction process had been delayed for an additional 60 days, it would have increased the anxiety of the park. These residents have a right to peaceful enjoyment of where they live.”

The bill allows for expedited evictions in cases of imminent danger.

The DORA review showed that “harm is occurring in manufactured housing communities ... which largely stems from lack of enforcement of existing laws, bad actors exploiting a relatively loose regulatory structure and the inevitable tension that arises when the house belongs to one person and the land belongs to someone else,” McCluskie said. “It’s impacting our rural, urban and mountain economies. Mobile homes are an essential solution to our housing crisis; sometimes the mobile home parks are the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in rural communities.”

But Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, said the bill will burden mobile home park owners who do act in good faith.

“I still don’t think it is helpful to create an oversight agency ... that adds a lot of bureaucracy and delay in resolving disputes and investigating complaints, rather than keeping it local,” Carver said.

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