The complaints from home owners living in manufactured-home parks have spiked in the last year.
Consumers have reported rent increases of up to 69 percent; utility fees that exceed the landlords’ actual costs for service; arbitrary fees and fines that raise their costs even more; lack of clear title to their manufactured homes; being forced to move for no reason and then losing their homes; and other problems.
Concerns have grown as out-of-state corporations have purchased manufactured-home parks in several communities and drastically increased rent and fees. The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division worked with lawmakers last session to propose new protections, but the bills stalled. In December, residents and advocates packed a public hearing at the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to change Iowa’s manufactured-home laws.
“For years, our office has been a lone voice raising concerns about abuses to manufactured-home owners,” said Attorney General Tom Miller. “Our ask to lawmakers is simple: Iowa law should recognize that these consumers own actual homes and treat manufactured-home park residents as equal to apartment tenants, if not better.”
Miller’s office recommends several changes to Iowa Code Chapter 562B and other laws to strengthen protections for manufactured-home residents. The office asks legislators to:
- Limit rent increases to only once each year, and set a cap on the percentage increase in annual rent. Increase the notice period for a rent increase to 180 days (from the current 60 days).
- Add a “cause” requirement for termination of manufactured-home park lease. Amend the law so that a landlord may terminate tenancy only if there is a: a) material noncompliance with the rental agreement, b) material violation of the park rules or regulations, c) other violation of Chapter 562B for which termination is a remedy, d) legitimate and material business reason the impact of which is not specific to only one tenant, or e) change in the use of the manufactured-home park land, but only if the tenant’s initial lease warned that a possible change in the use of the land could be grounds for termination or nonrenewal.
- Increase manufactured-home park tenants’ rights under the law preventing retaliation by landlords so that it matches the rights of residential tenants.
- Give the attorney general the authority to protect home owners by enforcing the Manufactured or Mobile Home Landlord and Tenant Law in Iowa Code Chapter 562B.
- Prevent a landlord from charging a tenant more than the actual cost of any utility service. Failure to pay utility fees that are in excess of the service’s actual cost should not be grounds for eviction.
- Require landlord to give park tenants the option to purchase the manufactured-home park before selling it for any use.
- Give manufactured-home tenants the same ability to fix an issue when the landlord fails to maintain the property as the residential tenant has under Iowa law. Consider allowing a group of tenants to join together so that they can address larger issues in the park, such as roads or water delivery.
- Increase manufactured home park tenant rights regarding eviction to match those of residential tenants.
- Amend the Manufactured Housing Fund Program to provide money for tenants to purchase a park from a landlord, and for use in homes not sited in a manufactured-home park.
“We thank the lawmakers from both parties who have already shown a sincere concern for these consumers and are working for legislation that would be fair for both manufactured-home owners and good landlords,” Miller said.
If you’re considering buying a manufactured home, learn about your rights under Iowa law. Here is a guide from Iowa Legal Aid.
You should also understand the financial disadvantages: While the home itself may be less expensive than a traditional home, the manufactured home’s value will quickly drop in value. In addition, financing a manufactured home purchase is more expensive. Although known as “mobile homes,” most manufactured homes are not movable for financial or physical reasons. If located in a park, the home can be expensive to move and difficult to resell. Although you might own your home, your options are limited if you are evicted or you choose to leave the park.
Some other tips to consider before buying:
Investigate the history of park and its owners. Talk to current tenants about conditions. To see whether a landlord has evicted tenants or sued them for money (or been sued by them), go to: www.iowacourts.state.ia.us
Ask for a written annual lease. Correspond in writing with the landlord for all communications.
Determine the cost of utilities. Is in included in rent, does the lot have a separate meter, or is the park master metered? Do the fees reflect the actual cost of service?
If the manufactured home is used, have it inspected. Make sure that it is wired and plumbed to current standards and that there are no structural issues with the frame or flooring. If you are purchasing a home that is already in a park, make sure that it was properly installed.
How to file a complaint
To file a complaint, go here or call 515-281-5926 (in Des Moines area) or 888-777-4590 (outside the metro area).
For more tips, follow the Iowa Attorney General on Facebook and Twitter at @AGIowa