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Protection on the home front

The selling price for manufactured home parks is causing park owners across the nation to sell their land, forcing those residing on it to relocate.

Citizens in the Kloshe Illahee manufactured home community, 2500 S. 370th St. in unincorporated Federal Way, want to secure their homes and invited State Sen. Tracey Eide, D-30th District, State Rep. Skip Priest, R-30th District, and State Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-30th District, to a forum Oct. 9.

The lawmakers discussed the state of manufactured home parks as well as three proposed laws designed to protect manufactured housing and the residents who live in these homes. Legislators in the 30th District hope to get those laws passed during the next legislative session, beginning Jan. 8, 2008.

National trend:

Manufactured homes are an affordable housing option for some Washington state residents, many of them senior citizens.

The homes are bought and placed on rented land in manufactured home parks. Residents generally like the affordable prices and sense of community they get in the parks and plan to reside there on a long-term basis, said Ishbel Dickens, Columbia Legal Services staff attorney.

Those living in the parks are beginning to notice an alarming trend. Park owners are selling their land to developers for a price that many residents cannot counter-offer.

Consequently, owners of manufactured homes are left with few options and little financial assistance in relocating their homes.

“The manufactured houses are on raw land and it’s very valuable right now,” Dickens said.

Across the nation, including Washington state, selling conditions are prime for manufactured park owners looking to exit the business.

In Washington state, since January 2006, 49 manufactured parks have either closed or are scheduled to close by October 2008, according to an October 2007 document from the Washington Department of Community Trade and Economic Development Office of Manufactured Housing. More than 2,000 people who will be left with nowhere to go, Dickens said.

“We are talking about people losing their one and only asset,” she said.

The price to move a manufactured home — $8,000 to $15,000 — is often more than what the home costs, Dickens said. A one-year notice period coupled with difficulties in finding and affording a place to relocate can result in the loss of an investment, Dickens said.

Manufactured homes, some with mortgages still out, are being taken to the dump instead of another manufactured home park, Dickens said.

“The majority of people that get that 12-month notice end up demolishing their homes,” Dickens said.

Though the Legislature passed measures to help protect owners of manufactured homes last session, more must be done to ensure manufactured home residents have a place to reside, the legislators agreed.

“We need to somehow be proactive,” Eide said.

Preserving housing:

Senate Bill 5780 and its companion bill, House Bill 1621, will be reviewed for a second time during the next legislative session.

SB 5780 is designed to give manufactured home park tenants a way to preserve the land where their homes reside. Park owners would be required to file a notice of sale 90 days before the sale occurs. Within that time period, the landlord would only have the opportunity to sell the park to a tenant organization, representing the tenants through a qualified sale or good faith negotiations, or a government or housing authority, exercising its right of first refusal.

The bill encourages park owners to sell to the homeowners and gives them a break on excise taxes to do so. The owners would still receive a fair market price for their land, Dickens said.

The bill mandates who park owners can and cannot sell their land to, said Ken Spencer, executive director of Manufactured Housing Communities of Washington, which represents park owners. Park owners should have the choice of offering to sell the park to tenants first, rather than be required to do so, he said.

“The older the community is, the less likely the residents have the money to buy the park,” Spencer said.

Rent justification:

Preventing park owners from selling the land from under tenants is not enough to protect manufactured home parks, the legislators said.

In some cases, park owners are eager to sell, and they take extreme measures to do so.

Mobile Home Owner’s Association president Fred Jones used a park in North Bend as an example at the forum. The owner wanted residents to move quickly so the land could be sold, Jones said. The owner increased rent prices from approximately $300 to $500 a month to $1,500 a month, he said. Residents, many on fixed incomes, could no longer afford to reside in the park and were forced to leave.

A rent justification bill has not yet been crafted, Dickens said. The goal is to create a bill in the Legislature that would require landlords to give renters a reason for increased rent prices, she said. As the law currently stands, landlords are required to give residents three months notice when they plan to raise rent. No justification is needed, Dickens said.

“I’m on the record to clearly support the rent justification bill,” Priest said.

Prolonged notice of sale:

Eide, Priest, Miloscia and Dickens want to protect owners of manufactured homes if the park they reside in is sold.

A bill, which would prolong the one-year notice to relocate to five years, will be introduced during this year’s legislative process. The bill would give residents more time to prepare for the move and more time to find a place to relocate their homes, Dickens said.

“I will always vote for these bills — all three of them,” Eide said.

Spencer realizes the sale of a manufactured home park can be trying for residents of the park, but preserving affordable housing is a problem that needs to be addressed by the respective municipalities, he said.

Manufactured park owners should not be expected to shoulder the burden of providing all the affordable housing, he said. The owners deserve the right to sell their land for a profit, he said.

Dickens acknowledged that those renting in manufactured home parks signed contracts revealing that the park owners could sell the land at any time, but said most renters are under the impression that the land will not be up for sale anytime soon.

The process to get the three bills passed will be a struggle, Dickens said. Landlords have a strong lobbying presence at the state capitol, and they resisted bills passed during the last legislative session, she said.

“It’s an uphill battle, but not one we are going to give up on,” Dickens said. “We need more fairness in this situation.”

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

To learn more about Senate Bill 5780 or House Bill 1621, which will be reviewed in the next legislative session, visit the Washington State Legislature’s Web site at http://apps.leg.wa.gov.

To learn more about House Bill 1461, passed in the 2007 legislation, visit the same Web site.

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