Historic Legislation in Colorado Improves Protections for Owners of Manufactured Housing
Colorado’s legislative and regulatory landscape has been shaped over the past decades by the state’s independent and “Wild West” past. The loose regulation of manufactured housing communities in the state had fallen victim to Colorado’s hands-off approach. Colorado passed its Mobile Home Park Act in 1985, however, the only current recourse available for homeowners who believed a community owner or manager had violated the Act was to initiate a private action in civil court.
The cost and administrative challenge of litigation left many homeowners without options for holding park owners accountable for violations of the law, and created an area ripe for abuse. Nationwide, investors and investment firms have been purchasing manufactured housing communities. This is in part because of a statement by Frank Rolfe, founder of Mobile Home University for investors. He previously shared that he found that the customers are “stuck” in their communities due to a lack of ability to move their mobile homes. He added that mobile homeowners usually lack the ability to do something as simple as object to land rent increases: “The only way they can object to your rent raise is to walk off and leave the trailer, in which case it becomes abandoned property.”
Local communities and homeowners in Colorado over the past decade have been faced with violations of the Mobile Home Park Act by park owners that include overbilling for water and other utilities, levying unexplained fees, wrongful evictions, capricious rules and regulations, entering properties without notice, and failing to maintain basic park infrastructure. One Colorado homeowner recently explained to a member of Colorado’s federal delegation that he compares homeowners in these communities to “serfs” in “kingdoms” ruled by park owners.
Homeowners worked with legislators from 2014-2017 to pass legislation to address these harms. Unfortunately, park owners successfully lobbied to defeat each bill over those four years. In 2017, homeowners worked with Colorado Center on Law and Policy and 9to5 Colorado to submit an application to the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) requesting a sunrise review of the Mobile Home Park Act. A sunrise review is a process in Colorado by which DORA analyzes whether a particular business or profession should be licensed by the state.
Review Findings Prompt Action
Though the review concluded that licensing park owners may not curb abuses, its conclusions were clear that something had to be done to address the harms impacting homeowners. In its report, DORA stated:
The Applicant submitted numerous examples of how Coloradans have been harmed by situations in manufactured housing communities. [DORA] discovered many additional instances of harm by conducting interviews and site visits. Further, there were numerous media reports outlining issues in manufactured housing communities. The instances of public harm discovered over the course of this review generally constitute violations of the Act, fair housing laws, and PUC rules. The harm is generally unrelated to a lack of professional or occupational competence on the part of manufactured housing community owners and managers. Rather, the harm, in most cases, seems to have been caused intentionally.” The report authors also found, “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.
As homeowners organized efforts to address these violations, local jurisdictions such as the City of Boulder, Boulder County, City of Longmont, City and County of Broomfield and many others received complaints from homeowners affected by violations of the law. In one park in the City of Boulder, homeowners were left several days without water due to failed infrastructure. Though some cities in Colorado had the authority to regulate manufactured housing communities and address some violations locally, statutory cities and counties did not have the authority to address these issues as statutory cities’ and counties’ regulatory authority must be conferred by the state legislature.
Legislation Levels the Playing Field
Leadership in Colorado’s House of Representatives; including House Speaker KC Becker and Majority Caucus Chair Edie Hooton, also received requests from homeowners and others to address the legal desert of Colorado’s manufactured housing communities. With the state’s sunrise review completed in October of 2018, homeowners, local government representatives, legislators and nonprofit organizations crafted legislation in response.
Approved in the 2019 legislative session, House Bill 1309—Mobile Home Park Act Oversight—grants the Department of Local Affairs’ Division of Housing the authority to administer a dispute resolution and enforcement program funded by a small lot fee on mobile home park owners. The legislation also extends the length of time a homeowner has to cure rent to align with Colorado’s Landlord/Tenant law, extends the time to sell or move their home following eviction from 48 hours to up to 60 days, and grants statutory cities and counties the authority to regulate parks at the local level.
“This [bill] helps to correct decades of inequity between homeowners and land owners. The passage of this legislation gives me hope that someday a true change in perspective will happen, namely, a recognition of the tremendous investment and value that the owners of the manufactured housing properties in manufactured housing communities bring to the table, without which these communities would not exist.” – Renee Hummel, homeowner and Colorado Coalition of Manufactures Home Owners member.
Next steps for proponents of homeowner’s rights in Colorado are engaging in the rule-making process at the Department of Local Affairs Division of Housing and drafting legislation in 2020 to address additional issues in the state’s original Mobile Home Park Act.