Any Talk About Affordable Housing Must Include Mobile Homes

Mobile or “manufactured” homes are the original and enduring form of affordable housing. You see them in rural and, as workforce housing, near resort communities, but you also see them in the Denver metro area. Five mobile home parks are within two miles of our Golden real estate office.

More than 100,000 people live in over 900 mobile home parks across Colorado. If our goal as a society is to preserve and expand affordable housing, we must protect and even expand mobile home ownership.

But there are problems.

Mobile home owners pay upwards of $100,000 for their homes (mostly pre-owned), but they have to rent lot space in a park. I was told that zoning laws in Jefferson County (and probably elsewhere) don’t allow a mobile home not in a mobile home park.

Increasingly, mobile home parks are owned by big national corporations whose only interest is maximizing profit. Because it is financially prohibitive to move a mobile home, and you can only move it to another park, the park owner has the home owner over a barrel. They can increase the rent as much and as often as they want and the owner has to pay it or be evicted. Until the passage of HB19-1309 by the Colorado General Assembly last May, which strengthened the Mobile Home Park Act, a homeowner (who the courts treat as a tenant) had 48 hours to vacate for non-payment of rent, and if they left the home in place, it became the property of the park owners. Now they have 10 days to cure a notice of rent past due and then have 30 days to vacate, but the problem persists — you either pay or you surrender ownership of your home.

Now that mobile homes can be listed in the MLS, I found 11 such homes in the metro area that are active, pending or have closed in the past 6 months. Rents range from a low of $7,500 to a high of $10,920 per year. Many of the homes couldn’t be sold for that much and are depreciating every year, unlike “regular” homes, which appreciate.

A mobile home, by the way, is not real estate and can only be on the MLS if it is on owned land or has a land lease. Mobile homes are titled with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and yet they are taxed as “real property” by the county assessor rather than via “ownership tax” from the DMV, as with automobiles. The property tax on those 11 listings ranged from $142 to $803 per year.

Although last year’s legislation created a complaint resolution process for mobile home owners, it is not utilized as much as it could be, because residents are fearful of retaliation by management. If you get on the wrong side of management, you face increased enforcement and fines which are added to rent. Don’t pay the full rent, and you’ll be evicted. And you thought HOAs were difficult! One resident of a Golden mobile home park who has been outspoken told me that the number of “rule notifications” – known among residents as “nastygrams” – has exploded as a result of speaking up.

I was educated (in less than 20 minutes!) on this topic by a segment by John Oliver on his program “Last Week Tonight.” Do watch it using the link above.

While mobile home park residents may be reluctant to speak up for themselves, they have allies among progressives within the larger community, notably the Golden United Housing Task Force. They meet monthly on the first Wednesday of the month. One of the leaders of that effort within Golden United, Kathy Smith (no relation), sent me a super-informative email with the following information, much of which is reflected in my published column.

The state government’s website is https://cdola.colorado.gov/mobile-home-park-oversight.

Also, the Colorado Sun did a series titled “Parked.”  https://coloradosun.com/tag/parked-half-the-american-dream/

Golden United and the Jefferson Unitarian Church Community Action Network (JUC CAN) are collaborators on a 2-year grant made possible by the Community First Foundation to engage and inform residents of manufactured housing communities in Jefferson County about new statewide laws that provide protections for residents of mobile home parks. The main organizations for the grant are Together Colorado, 9to5 Colorado, and the Colorado Coalition of Manufactured Home Owners (CoCoMHO). We are just getting started and will be working at some mobile home parks in the Golden area, including Mountainside Estates, Golden Terrace, and Golden Hills. We will also be working at parks in Arvada and probably Lakewood. Here are some excerpts from the grant application:

Background:

An important aspect of housing options in Jeffco is preservation of existing affordable housing. Manufactured housing is the largest unsubsidized source of affordable housing and provides homes to seniors on fixed incomes, low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans, immigrants, and others in need of low-cost housing. More than 100,000 people live in more than 900 manufactured home parks (MHPs) across Colorado,  In MHPs. Home owners own their homes but rent their lot from the park owner. Because it is often nearly impossible to move their homes, when park owners raise lot rents, residents are trapped, choosing between paying the rent or abandoning their homes. Many MHPs are owned by corporate landlords.

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) performed a Sunrise Review of Manufactured Housing Communities (October 2018). The report states:

“Clearly, harm is occurring in manufactured housing communities… The harm largely stems from the 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 but the land beneath it belongs to someone else. Conditions for Colorado owners of manufactured homes could be improved by increasing community engagement within the communities, including the forming of homeowners associations and cooperatives; educating homeowners about their rights and encouraging them to challenge community owners when appropriate or file complaints with the proper authority…”

This DORA report provided the justification for recent legislation that enforces the Mobile Home Park Act (MHPA) and created the Mobile Home Park Dispute Resolution and Enforcement Program (DREP). It also provides validation for our approach of community engagement and education.

As laid out in the DORA Review, residents of many MHPs are experiencing exploitation and numerous stressors. Recent impacts from coronavirus will further hamper the ability of families and individuals to meet basic needs. Some examples of current practices that create instability and stress include: (a) increasing rent, decreasing services, issuing mandatory fees, or billing for something not previously billed in an unequal way, (b) issuing warnings/citations/fines that are not justified, (c) serving notices or threatening eviction when not justified, (d) selectively enforcing rules/requirements, (e) conducting management visits or surveillance targeted at a complainant that is unjustified, (f) adding maintenance responsibilities for trees or fences, and (g) property rights capture (i.e., loss of autonomy over home and lot space).

These practices lead to instability and stress, both economic and emotional. Many of these practices can be addressed through enforcement of the MHPA and the rules for the DREP complaint process. Further policy changes can be sought through the state legislature and local jurisdictions. Ultimately, more oversight, protections, and enforcement can lead to systemic change which will, in turn, reduce expense burdens and the number of evictions, and improve the quality of life for Jeffco MHP residents.

Recently, the Colorado Legislature has updated laws that regulate MHPs. The Mobile Home Park Act (MHPA), circa 1985, provides protections under the law for mobile home residents, but has had minimal enforcement. In 2019 the legislature passed HB19-1309, MHPA Oversight. This law grants the Colorado Division of Housing oversight over the MHPA and the authority to administer a Dispute Resolution and Enforcement Program (DREP). The DREP provides a mechanism to submit complaints without the expense of hiring a lawyer and will begin taking complaints on May 1, 2020. An anticipated benefit of the DREP is to decrease evictions and housing insecurity in MHPs.

For more information or to join Golden United in their MHP initiative, you can contact Kathy Smith at 303-278-8025.

Author: Golden Real Estate, Inc.

Golden Real Estate is a prominent member of the Denver/Jefferson County real estate scene. Based in Golden, we service both Denver and Jeffco, representing both buyers and sellers. We're well known for Broker Jim Smith's weekly "Real Estate Today" column published in the Denver and Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section each Thursday. The column also appears in several weekly newspapers and is archived at www.JimSmithColumns.com. We have nine agents, all of whom are Realtors and EcoBrokers. Our office is Net Zero Energy since December 2017, and several of us drive electrics cars. Known for our sustainable practices, we accept polystyrene (aka "Styrofoam") for recycling, keeping 200 cubic yards per year out of area landfills.

4 thoughts on “Any Talk About Affordable Housing Must Include Mobile Homes”

  1. FYI, the CoCoMHO website has some good information about the 2020 MHP legislation at https://cocomho.org/2020-bills. The Thistle organization is very involved with MHP resident-owned communities (see https://thistle.us/roc/), and CHFA has been involved in Longmont.

    CoCoMHO’s website (https://cocomho.org/) is a great statewide MHP resource.

    9to5 Colorado, has a long history working at MHPs (https://9to5.org/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-colorado-mobile-home-oversight-act/ and https://www.facebook.com/9to5coloradopage/).

    Colorado Homes For All (https://www.facebook.com/cohomes4all/) is actively involved with MHPs.

    The Colorado Poverty Law Project (CPLP, https://www.copovertylawproject.org/) has a new Mobile Home Initiative in partnership with Adams County, 9to5 Colorado, and CoCoMHO. CPLP is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides community education and attorney training on housing law topics and access to legal representation for low-income individuals facing eviction and other housing issues through their network of volunteer attorneys. They will be providing a virtual monthly educational series for mobile home residents that will focus on education about Colorado’s mobile home laws and raising awareness of resources for legal advocacy.

    Finally, the City of Boulder and Boulder County have been involved with MHPs for several years. Please see:
    https://bouldercolorado.gov/housing/manufactured-housing-strategy
    https://bouldercolorado.gov/neighborhood-services/mobile-home-parks-resources
    C-MOB (Coalition of Manufactured Home Owners in Boulder) has been heavily involved in Boulder

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  2. Two other bills are important here. One changes the notification rules for eviction and lengthens the time for time to cure a violation from 60 days to 90 days. Tenants still have to pay rent to avoid eviction but are given more time to do so. There are many other provisions to protect the rights of owners and renters.

    House Bill 1196: https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb20-1196

    The other bill gives the overall community the right to purchase the property from the land owner before they redevelop it. This gives residents 90 days to come up with financing (and there are third parties who help with this, like ROC USA). Resident owned communities really start to make sense compared to the current model where all land value increases accrue to the owners and not the residents.

    Tenants Right to Purchase House Bill 1201: https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb20-1201

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  3. One other drawback of mobile home ownership is that mobile home codes change. An older mobile home can not be placed in a another park because it doesn’t meet current code. There are dealers of mobile homes out there who specialize in old mobile homes. You can buy them ridiculously cheaply because many of them are just torn apart and turned into utility trailers! I have a 40 acre parcel in Weld County and I have an older mobile set up for the helpers to use, think I paid $1800 for it. Mobile homes are an attractive trap for those who are uninformed about the long term financial costs of owning a mobile home. Equity is never created. Poor people are preyed upon.

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