Law, lobbyists in opposition to manufactured home owners

Residents at Wildwood Mobile Villa are hoping to fight back against rent increases. (KEIZERTIMES/File photo)

The owners of homes in Wildwood Mobile Villa, a manufactured home park in northwest Keizer are feeling the pinch of rent burdens, but it’s not the only way residents feel they’ve been squeezed – even when they’ve tried to take action that might alleviate the pain.

“We tried to purchase the park from [a previous owner], we sent a letter using Chapter 90 and, because of the influence of MHCO, she sold it to another owner who flipped it and we tried to buy it off of him,” said one resident of the park for more than a decade.

Residents have asked that Keizertimes not use their names in our coverage of their concerns out of concern of reprisal by the current owner of the park.

Chapter 90 is part of the Oregon revised statues that lays out the responsibilities of both owners and tenants at manufactured home parks. MCHO (Manufactured Housing Communities of Oregon) is a lobbying group that advocates on behalf of park owners. In most instances, residents of manufactured homes own the home itself and pay rent on the space it occupies.

“MCHO does a good enough job to make sure there’s no legal loopholes,” the resident said.

MCHO only makes its publications available to members of the group, but Keizertimes managed to get a copy of its Guide for Effective Community Management from 2008 and some of its convention materials from later years.

Some of the guidelines specifically address matters where residents have found previous owners lacking.

In a section regarding what park owners responsibilities are, it states at the time of rental “buildings, grounds, and appurtenances are kept in every part safe for normal and reasonably foreseeable uses.”

One Wildwood resident discovered years’ worth of mildew and mold on a carport that came with the property and ended up paying for the clean-up out-of-pocket after the then-owner demanded it be put in compliance with park rules.

New residents to the park are now being charged a $300 deposit on the carports that the they will then be required to maintain.

The theme of MCHO’s 2015 convention in Eugene was passive-aggressively titled Do I Have to Accommodate This? The Latest on Fair Housing Accommodation Policies.

Aside from the minutia of rental agreements, Oregon law works in favor of park owners in other ways. Chapter 90 permits home owners renting in a manufactured home park to make offers to purchase the property through the formation of the homeowners association. Wildwood residents tried that, as well.

“Back in 2011, we formed a committee with 68 percent of the residents because we were concerned about safety and the lighting,” said a Wildwood resident.

Home owners in the 55+ park were specifically concerned with the lack of street lighting.

Then-owner, Evelyn Kerber, issued a letter to all residents in January 2012 stating “for years my main focus was to keep rent increases to a minimum because I felt it was the overriding priority of the community … After reading the stated concerns of residents that you compiled, I have immediately began (sic) generating additional revenue in the only way possible through more a (sic) substantial rental increase in 2012 to try to catch up.”

Rent increased by $35 in 2012, $35 in 2013, $35 in 2014, and then another $30 between 2015 and 2016. Rent is now $725. Chapter 90 specifically prohibits retaliatory rent increases, but the concerns about safety provided cover if retaliation was the intent.

After that, the Wildwood Homeowner Association approached Kerber with a proposal to purchase the park from her.

“We had a bank ready and lined up to lend each home owner money to buy their own lot” a resident said.

Kerber declined and sold the park to the another owner, West Coast Mobile Home Parks , Inc. (WCMHP), which made the street light improvements and installed a pool and clubhouse.

Residents approached WCMHP with a offer to purchase and it was rejected again. The second time, WCMP’s owner took advantage of a tax avoidance tool known as a 1031 exchange. A 1031 exchange allows investors to trade certain types of property for other types of investment property without paying taxes on the transaction. Rather than entertain the offer from residents, WCMP’s owner said he was only looking for a 1031 exchange. Without any property to offer in trade, residents’ offer was dead in the water.

“When they came up with the 1031, we couldn’t fight it because we didn’t have the trade value,” said a Wildwood resident. “The only thing we could do was take them to court and none of us have the money to go up against MCHO.”