The Eagle River Village mobile home park in Edwards is less than 10 miles from world-class skiing at Beaver Creek Resort and represents one of the last bastions of affordable housing in the area. 

The Colorado legislature passed a bill Friday that seeks to expand the rights of mobile home residents, but only after sponsors said they were forced to make several changes weakening the measure.

As introduced, House Bill 1287 would have capped lot rent increases at mobile home parks to 3% annually or the local rate of inflation. It would have also expanded protections for mobile home residents when their parks are closed, requiring landlords to pay for the residents’ relocation costs or offer to purchase their mobile homes, and extending the time residents have to buy for-sale parks from 90 to 180 days.

On Thursday, the Senate lowered the extension to 120 days and pushed the bill’s implementation from immediately upon Gov. Jared Polis signing it to Oct. 1. Last month, the House removed the bill's cap on lot rent increases, which sponsors described as “the most important part of the bill.”

During the Senate's vote, bill sponsor Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, defended its numerous amendments as compromises with the industry and highlighted what is left of the decimated bill.

“This is an important step forward in preserving some of the most affordable housing in the state,” Winter said. “We are giving basic protections to mobile home park residents, making sure they have a dispute resolution process and making sure that they have adequate time (to purchase a park).”

The bill’s other sponsors have responded less favorably to the amendments. Last month, sponsor Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, D-Fort Collins, said he was forced to remove the cap on lot rent increases because of “threats” from the governor. Boesenecker said the measure had enough votes to pass the House and the Senate, but said Polis would have vetoed the bill if it included the rent requirements.

Boesenecker said the amendment was “the last” he wanted to offer, saying it will force many living in mobile homes onto the streets. He said he knows of 12 people in his district alone that would be evicted if the rent keeps going up.

Over 130,000 Coloradans live in mobile homes, most of whom are elderly or low-income, according to state data.

During a public hearing for the bill, dozens of mobile home residents said lot rents in their parks have increased dramatically in recent years. Some residents said their rent increased by 39% in less than two years or by 67% in less than four, with some rent spikes occurring every six months. 

Many Republican lawmakers applauded the amendments, including Sen. Chris Holbert of Douglas County, Rep. Dan Woog of Erie and Rep. Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch. The changes didn't earn the bill any bipartisan support. In both chambers, all Democrats voted in support of the measure, and all Republicans voted in opposition.

“(The bill) is not being sensitive to the long game of what development opportunities will be missed if this policy is eventually put into place,” said Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, arguing against the bill in favor of denser affordable housing, such as apartments. “Density is more efficient for a number of reasons, less infrastructure, less water is used, less space and it also accentuates transit.”

Other opponents claimed the opposite, saying the bill would close mobile home parks. During public testimony, mobile home park owners described the bill as a “small business killer” that would force them to close as they face increasing operating costs that they said are forcing them to raise rents so frequently.

In a statement, Polis’ spokesperson echoed a similar position, saying the governor's position to veto the bill if it arrived on his desk in its introduced form was due to the fear that capping lot rent increases would result in mobile home parks shutting down.

Boesenecker argued that large wealthy owners — not mom-in-pops at risk of closing — are the prime culprits responsible for drastically increasing rents of mobile home parks. Of Colorado’s 734 registered mobile home parks, 66% are controlled by corporate or multi-state owners, he said.

David Reynolds and Frank Rolfe own more than a dozen mobile home parks in Colorado and hundreds throughout the country through RV Horizons-Impact Communities. The pair also run Mobile Home University, a Front Range training course on "how to make money" in the mobile home parks business. The course openly directs owners to “relentlessly” increase rents and cut amenities because residents can’t afford to leave.

Supporters of the bill said this is common as, when lot rents increase, residents are often stuck because it costs thousands of dollars to relocate their mobile homes, if they are physically or legally able to move them at all. Though they own their mobile homes, they do not own the land they sit on.

“They call it shooting fish in a barrel because they can prey on poor people,” said Rep. Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins, who was in tears while reacting to last month’s amendment to remove the rent increase cap.

The state Senate approved the heavily amended bill in a 20-12 vote on Friday, following the House’s 41-24 vote in April. The bill will now be sent back to the House to approve changes made by the Senate, and then to Polis for final consideration.

Other protections for mobile home owners are also advancing through the legislature. On Friday, the House passed House Bill 1223 to provide a property tax exemption for low-value mobile homes. The House is also scheduled to vote on Senate Bill 160 by the end of the day, to create a loan and grant program for mobile home residents seeking to buy their parks.

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