U law team urges Utah State Legislature to improve enforcement of Mobile Home Park Residency Act

By Linda F. Smith

A team from the University of Utah S. J. Quinney College of Law has issued a report and recommendations to a legislative subcommittee regarding the Mobile Home Park Residency Act and a helpline the team has operated for the past 14 months.  The report recommends disbanding the helpline and establishing legal mechanisms to enforce the Act.

In 2015 the Utah State Legislature tapped and funded the College of Law to operate a Mobile Home Park Helpline to provide information to residents and owners of mobile home parks and to collect information about the problems faced by the individuals who called the helpline.

The team (nine students, two supervising attorneys, and Professor Linda F. Smith) fielded calls from 123 different individuals from at least 10 different counties who raised 240 separate issues. The most serious calls involved mobile home parks allegedly violating the Act by unreasonably denying a home owner’s right to sell the mobile home in place to a new person who would become a resident in the park. Some callers alleged that parks denied permission in order to purchase the homes themselves (at a cheaper price) effectively deny the home owners the value of their investments.  Other alleged violations included parks charging more for utilities than their costs, and unreasonable rules and rule enforcement.

It had been thought that the helpline might resolve disputes and enhance compliance with the Act by providing information about the law.  In only a few cases was the helpline able to confirm that the information provided helped resolve a dispute and prevent violation of the Act. Some callers reported the violations went unchecked — for example, one caller objected to the park raising the rent before the required 60-day notice, so the park extended the time for the caller, but not for any of the other residents who had not personally complained. Linda_Smith_nh0kr3

The College of Law team has recommended that the Legislature discontinue the helpline and provide enforcement mechanisms instead.  Most other states with mobile home park laws provide either for a state agency to enforce violations of the Act (19 states) or provide for enhanced private remedies (33 states) such as fines, triple damages and attorneys’ fees.  The report noted that “the absence of any enforcement mechanism” in the Act “means the statute operates more like a list of ‘best practices’ than a law establishing legal rights worthy and capable of enforcement.”

The team also reported on complaints that were not covered by the Act — most notably unreasonable rent and rent increases.  The Act provides no limit on the rent that can be charged.  The team researched this issue and discovered that the American Association of Retired Persons and the National Consumer Law Center had issued recommendations about laws that should govern mobile home parks.  The AARP report notes: “Frequent, large and unpredictable rent increases are one of the most pressing problems facing manufactured home residents.  This problem is especially serious for older persons living on fixed incomes.”[1] This is due to the fact that mobile homes are really not “mobile” due to risk of damage in a move and high costs (over $10,000) to move the home. As the report and the AARP explain, “These barriers make it possible for a segment of the community operators to adopt exploitive rules and practices that are unique to this type of housing arrangement.”[2]  While an apartment tenant faces minimal cost in moving to a new unit if the landlord raises the rent or imposes unreasonable rules, residents in a mobile home park are trapped by their investment in their homes.

Accordingly, the team also recommended that the Utah Legislature study the AARP Model Statute and consider adopting provisions that grant mobile home owners more substantive rights than are currently included in the Act.

[1] AARP Policy Institute, Manufactured Housing Community Tenants:  Shifting The Balance of Power, 14 (2004) available at: http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/consume/d18138_housing.pdf.

[2] Id. at 1