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Weak state mobile home laws need to be fixed | News, Sports, Jobs

Michigan has more than 1,200 mobile home parks, with at least a dozen of them in the Traverse City area.

Among the array of housing choices in the region, mobile home parks have traditionally provided some of the most affordable options for individuals, especially retirees on low or fixed incomes.

Some locations in the Traverse City area advertise rates starting at $300 a month for senior citizens.

Given the high demand for housing in a desirable location, these communities are the ideal choice for many residents. But that may not be the case for much longer if the state Legislature doesn’t do something to ensure it.

Simply put, the residents who own manufactured homes and rent the land where their homes sit are, literally, sitting ducks.

On July 19, Bridge Michigan reported accounts on the eastern side of the state where private equity firms have purchased mobile home parks and jacked up the rents. The mobile home owners had three choices: Find the money to pay the higher rent; move their mobile homes to other locations (which would cost thousands of dollars they don’t have); or abandon their mobile homes altogether.

Grand Traverse County Equalization Director James Baker said he is aware of situations where this has occurred in the Grand Rapids area, where the mobile home would have to be abandoned by the owner.

The firm would then take possession of the home and rent it to someone else.

These situations may not be happening on a large scale here – at least not yet. But, given the weak laws in Michigan regarding mobile home parks — laws that haven’t been updated since 1987 — we believe it’s only a matter of time.

Consider the fact that the need for affordable housing continues unabated. Sales of mobile homes reflect that demand. Mobile home owners are clearly vulnerable.

And, without state legislation to remove the economic incentives for private equity firms to come in and snap up mobile home parks and jack up the rates, these residents will continue to be vulnerable.

Last year, state Rep. John Cherry, D-Flint, co-sponsored legislation that proposed altering leasing and licensing requirements for the property owners, and addressed issues regarding titles to abandoned homes in mobile home parks, requiring compensation to the mobile home owners for the value of their property.

The proposed legislation would require yearlong leases or rental agreements, so landlords could not suddenly make changes, and the creation of a database of mobile home park owners with their licensing and contact information.

But these bills, which passed the state House with strong bipartisan support, are now stalled in the state Senate. According to Bridge Michigan, they are awaiting action by the Michigan Senate Regulatory Reform Committee.

And the prognosis for this proposed legislation is not good, since the Michigan Manufactured Housing Association, which represents industry leaders in the state, pulled its support.

Perhaps, in the short term, the best solution would be this: Approve a straightforward bill to simply protect existing homeowners from sudden increases in rent and fees after their mobile home park is sold to a new owner.

Blair Township Assessor Wendy Witkop said there is certainly precedence for this approach in Michigan.

“We have protection on taxable value,” Witkop pointed out. “The state made an effort to stop taxing you out of your home.”

If action at the state level is taken to protect these existing homeowners from high rents that would cause them to lose their homes, “you’re talking about the same thing,” she said.

That sounds like a sensible approach.

So keep the solution simple, senators, and get it done without further delay.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle

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