Herald Journal Herald and Journal, March 18, 2002

Crowd asks HL council for ordinance to help mobile home residents

By Lynda Jensen

A fair-sized crowd attended the Howard Lake City Council meeting Tuesday to discuss an ordinance related to the mobile home court.

Peggy Ashley spoke for the crowd, asking the council to pass an ordinance that would protect mobile park tenants from financial loss if owners of the park decided to sell for the purpose of development.

"Owners of stick built homes are compensated when they are forced to move or relocate because of development," she said. This is not so with mobile home tenants, she said.

The ordinance would hold the court owner responsible for costs of the tenants' relocation, and in the event that the home was too old for relocation (many mobile home courts will not accept homes older than a certain date), the owner would be required to compensate the home owner for the market value of the mobile home.

The group presented a petition signed by 40 residents.

Two tenants of the mobile home court, a senior citizen and a single mother, testified that they felt the ordinance was necessary to protect themselves against loss.

Mayor Gerry Smith pointed out that the issue addressed private property.

"There are people who rent apartments ­ what makes (mobile court tenants) different?"

"They are homeowners who happen to rent a lot," Ashley said.

Mobile courts are in a unique situation because the value of the property comes from the tenants living on top of property that is owned by someone else. The property value comes from the tenants who produce rental income, she said.

In this case, the government is expected to regulate the arrangement, she said.

There are 70 families at the Howard Lake mobile home court, Ashley said. There are handicapped lot owners and senior citizens who live there as well, it was noted.

Councilor Don Danford researched the issue, and also contacted All Parks Alliance for Change (APAC), the organized effort behind the ordinance, and verified a number of items discussed.

Research done by Administrative Assistant Kelly Bahn turned up 13 other cities that passed the ordinance, since it was in its beginning stages, she said.

She pointed out that two cities, Brainerd and Willmar, did not pass the ordinance, when asked.

Reasons that Willmar and Brainerd decided against the ordinance were because it related to private property, and they wanted to keep rents affordable. The cities found that by enacting the ordinance, rents for lots went up as a result, she said.

The ordinance withstood being challenged, and was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, a representative of APAC said.

The ordinance was first created when Bloomington had a mobile home court close, with economic disaster falling on several tenants, Ashley said.

In the Bloomington case, the trailer court owner made an extreme profit, while some tenants there became homeless and many others were dislocated, Ashley said.

If the owner could not pay for relocation costs, costing between $3,000 to $8,000 per lot owner, the city would be left holding the bag as well, it was noted.

If the mobile home court was sold for redevelopment, the deal would have to go through planning and zoning to be approved, Councilor Shelly Reddemann noted.

"Any development needs to be approved," he said. Surely a council would see the harm that could be done, and refuse to approve the deal, he said.

"That's true of this council, but not future ones," Ashley said.

Smith emphasized that it would be premature for the council to make a decision that night, since it needed to research the issue.

He pointed out that the current council has done many things to assist the mobile court tenants, and that he himself lived at a mobile court as his first home.

"A storm shelter will be in operation this year," Smith said.

Smith asked Ashley if she expected the park to close.

"No," she replied. However, she didn't want to approach the council when it was already too late, if the case should arise, she said.

The owners just finished investing half a million dollars into the court, Smith said.

The council decided to table the issue, to allow time for further research.

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