The Colorado House of Representatives on Monday approved a bill that aims to strengthen protections for residents of mobile home parks, including giving them more time to move after being evicted.
House Bill 1309 won approval on a party-line 41-23 vote and next heads to the state Senate.
The bill is the brainchild of state Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, who has watched as bills attempting to give mobile home park residents more rights have died year after year in the state Senate under majority Republicans, who opposed the measures as unduly burdensome to businesses.
This year, with Democrats in charge, it's a different story. The measure will be carried in the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs.
As in years past, the measure faces opposition from mobile home community operators who say it would add another layer of bureaucracy and place unfair pressure on park owners who act in good faith.
Hooton told Colorado Politics she has seven mobile home parks in her districts and about 20 countywide. For many, she noted, mobile homes are a much cheaper form of home ownership than a condo or house.
Esther Sullivan, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado Denver, has researched mobile homes and who buys them, and told Curbed magazine in 2017 that "the mobile home has offered a path to the American dream on a budget."
But mobile home parks have operated under a loose regulatory structure for decades, Hooton said Monday. If a mobile home owner has a complaint, oftentimes their only recourse has been to take a park owner to court, and that's out of reach financially for most.
The state's Mobile Home Parks Act, spelling out rules for park operators and their tenants, was first adopted in 1985, but critics say that law lacks teeth.
Last year, after the failure of yet another bill to rein in mobile home park owners who violate the 1985 law, the Department of Regulatory Agencies took a look at whether mobile home park owners understood the 1985 act, and whether licensing would force better compliance. The agency determined that owners do understand the law but that licensing was not the right step to take.
So Hooton and co-sponsor Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, decided to draw up on the dispute-resolution model established a couple of years ago in Washington state, which set up a mediation process to resolve complaints made by mobile-home owners. In the first year, Hooton said, 400 complaints were filed, but those numbers have dropped steadily, she said, as the "bad actors" have learned about the consequences.
Under HB 1309, the Department of Local Affairs' Division of Housing could accept complaints from mobile home owners and mediate between the home owners and the park owner. That would be paid for with a $24 per lot fee, equally paid for by the park owners and the mobile home owners.
If the mediation fails, either side could take the issue to an administrative law judge, avoiding the greater cost of going to county or district court.
The bill attempts to navigate around the state's home-rule laws, which allow cities and counties designated as home rule through charter to impose their own regulations. Home rule cities and counties -- including Denver, Broomfield and Weld and Pitkin counties -- can and do pass their own regulations around mobile home parks, Hooton said.
The problem, Hooton said, is that most of those parks are in unincorporated parts of counties. Under HB 1309, a county could pass regulations to set up its own mediation process. Absent that, the homeowner could go straight to the Department of Local Affairs for help.
The third part of the bill deals with evictions. Under current law, a mobile home owner can be evicted from a park on a 48-hour notice. That means finding another place for their home, and that's often difficult to do, with demand for mobile home space at a premium.
What often happens instead, Hooton said, is that mobile home owners wind up abandoning their home, and the park owner winds up with a free mobile home to sell or rent. It's unfair to homeowners, Hooton said.
HB 1309 instead extends that eviction period to 30 days, and if the homeowner needs more time, they can pay the lot fees to extend it another 30 days.
The bill was supported before the House by mobile home owners; 9 to 5 Colorado, an advocacy group for working women; and the Colorado Senior Lobby.
Debra Beasley of Colorado Springs, in written testimony, told the House Transportation and Local Government Committee on April 10 that she and her husband have seen lot fees at the mobile home park where they rent a lot increase from $475 in 2016 to more than $750 last year.
Their complaints are often ignored by the park owners and managers, Beasley said. For example, lights have been out in the parking lot of her community for months, a danger for seniors, she said.
Those in opposition to the bill include mobile home park owners, and some residents who say their mobile home parks are great places to live.
"I would hate to see the whole system upended ... and redone because the system in place now works," said Rolf Harrison of Rocky Mountain Mobile Home Communities, which operates mobile home parks in Broomfield.
Mobile home park owners most object to the longer time for an eviction, said Norm Sorenson of Kingsley Management Corp., which operates seven mobile home communities in Colorado, according to its website.
"What I worry about with this bill is that it significantly delays the eviction process and that can be a danger to residents," Sorenson said."
He told of a recent eviction of a drug dealer from a mobile home park, saying that the company did its best to expedite the eviction, but there were delays, during which there were threats to harm residents.
"The threat was real," Sorenson said. "If that eviction process had been delayed for an additional 60 days, it would have increased the anxiety of the park. These residents have a right to peaceful enjoyment of where they live."
The bill does allow for an expedited eviction process in cases of imminent danger.
McCluskie, the House Democrat from Dillon who co-sponsored the measure, said during House debate last Friday that "we're trying to fix a long-overdue aching problem for many of our mobile home owners."
She said that DORA's review showed that "harm is occurring in manufactured housing communities ... which largely stems from 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 and the land belongs to someone else."
She added: "It's impacting our rural, urban and mountain economies. Mobile homes are an essential solution to our housing crisis; sometimes the mobile home parks are the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in rural communities."
But Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, said the bill will burden mobile home park owners who do act in good faith.
"I still don't think it is helpful to create an oversight agency in DOLA that adds a lot of bureaucracy and delay in resolving disputes and investigating complaints, rather than keeping it local," Carver said.