TIME Magazine uses a case study of a manufactured home community in Akron, New York
to explore how investors are commodifying the mobile home industry. By
raising rents to increase returns, big companies are putting America’s
most vulnerable low-income homeowners at risk.
Fortunately, the homeowners are fighting back – and protecting
one of America’s last viable source of affordable housing in the process.
High Rent, Dangerous Conditions
As mom-and-pop owners age out of the mobile home industry, big investors
are stepping in. Unfortunately, these wealthy individuals and institutions
do not use their resources to better the communities they purchase but
rather exploit residents to make a profit.
In the Akron Manufactured Home Community in New York, the Florida-based
company, Sunrise Capital Investors, bought the company and immediately
proposed a rent increase of more than 40%. That same year, residents suffered
through a “winter without plowing or salting,” and one retired homeowner in the community told TIME “a couple of people fell and got hurt.”
The story is similar in other mobile home parks purchased by investors
across the country. Residents endure rent increases, followed by neglected
property maintenance and unsafe conditions – particularly when snow
and ice hit in the winter.
The Affordable Housing Crisis and a Lack of Legal Protections
Nationwide, there are more than
11 million low-income families. To house all of them, the country would need 7.2 million more affordable
housing units. As a result, more than 500,000 people in the United States
are experiencing homelessness on any given night.
Even those who are lucky enough to have places to live often spend more
than 30% of their income on rent (these people are ‘housing cost
burdened’), and 75% of all low-income families use more than half
of their income to pay rent (this income/rent relationship is known as
Many mobile homeowners live in manufactured communities so they do not
have to be housing cost burdened or experience housing poverty –
or because they simply cannot afford more traditional housing options.
When mobile home park owners raise the rent, residents are left with few
options and even fewer legal protections.
predatory practices in American mobile home parks could intensify the affordable housing crisis and drive more individuals
and families into homelessness.
How Mobile Homeowners Are Fighting Back
Because most mobile home owners own their homes but rent the land they
live on, and relocating a mobile home costs upwards of $5,000, these low-income
homeowners cannot simply walk away from a bad situation.
Investors who buy mobile home parks or manufactured communities “know they have a captive audience.” Many mobile homeowners must accept the increased cost of living
or be forced out of their own homes. Fortunately, some residents band
together to fight back against self-described ‘opportunistic’
Mobile homeowners say there is “no reason for [mobile home parks] to be something profitable,” and when parks go for sale, some residents step up to protect
their communities. When mobile homeowners purchase their parks in cooperative
conversions, they can work together to create something similar to a homeowner’s
association (HOA) to keep the park in business while minimizing expenses
for all homeowners.
Sadly, the upfront costs are frequently too big of an obstacle, which is
why nonprofits like PathStone help finance cooperative conversions and
stand up to big investors.
Another tactic mobile homeowners can use if they organize is rent strikes.
If all the mobile homeowners in a given community decide not to pay rent,
the investor does not receive any return on their investment and may be
more willing to negotiate manageable living expenses. Residents can also
organize rent strikes to improve conditions, but the risk of eviction
Many mobile homeowners who organize rent strikes do it because they know
they are stronger together – and because they feel like they have
nothing to lose.
Legislation and Litigation
The manufactured home industry is continuing to transform from what it
once was. While some investors are stepping in with bad intentions, local
and state governments are beginning to offer mobile homeowners some protections,
like those that exist for more traditional renters under landlord-tenant law.
Many mobile homeowners are politically active in hopes of changing the
law and adding new protections, and when mobile home park owners violate
existing laws, residents can always turn to litigation.
If you have been harmed by unsafe conditions at your mobile home park,
you may be able to file a
personal injury lawsuit against the park owner. Similarly, you can file suit for violations of
mobile home law – at least in states like California.
At Allen, Semelsberger & Kaelin LLP,
we have been representing mobile home park residents since 1987. If there
is a solution to your legal problem, we will help you find it. Simply fill out our mobile home questionnaire
to find out if you have a case or call us at (888) 998-2031 to get started today.