Rent, frustration is growing in mobile home parks in Michigan

James Grant, a retiree living on Social Security, bought a manufactured home and moved to the South Valley Estates Portable Park in Schwartz Creek in 2018 to escape the high cost of living he encountered while staying in an apartment. But with rising rents and outdated state oversight, the once-in-hand sanctuary of manufactured housing is losing its luster.

When Grant moved into the park, he paid about $300 a month for the rent for his plot, the area on which his manufactured home was located, and additional fees. Today, according to Grant, he pays $432 a month with nothing but base lot rent, bringing the total to about $530 when you pay an additional fee — a 77 percent increase in four years. In 2019, the median rent with garbage collection was $258 in Michigan, according to ManufacturedHomeLiving.org.

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Housing costs are rising across the country, both in housing prices and rents. Those increases are hitting mobile home parks in Michigan, where many residents live on fixed incomes or low-paying jobs. For them, monthly rent increases of $50 or $100 for the property where their manufactured home is located can be the difference between breaking the tie and not being able to afford medical care or having to sell plasma to pay the bills.

“I had to forgo medical procedures because I couldn’t pay my share,” Grant said. “I lost my teeth and can’t fix them because I pay an extra $200 a month that I didn’t have to pay before.”

Advocates say these increases are partly caused by Michigan laws surrounding mobile home parks that haven’t been updated since 1987, laws that have left a void for corporate owners and private equity firms to buy mobile home parks and increase rents.

He told Grant Bridge Michigan he saw this for himself, with his rent increasing after Havenpark Communities, an investment firm based in Utah, bought his garden. Grant also saw how the rent hike affected his neighbors.

“It has been very difficult for a lot of families,” Grant said. “A few dozen people left just because (they) couldn’t afford it… Some people moved, one was homeless… In a mobile home garden we don’t have much choice.”

Rep. John Sherry, D-Flint, who co-sponsored a bipartisan package of bills to update Michigan’s 1987 laws and crack down on companies like Havenpark, said moving isn’t always an option for owners. Cherry noted that it can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 to move a manufactured or mobile home, and if the manufactured home remains in one location, it could compromise the structural integrity of the home if it is moved.

“It creates a situation where you can own the house but you can’t own the land on it,” said Sherry. “You are about to be captivated by what the owner is doing if there is no proper regulation.”

“The slang term is ‘mobile house’ (but) it’s not really mobile in the sense that the name suggests,” added Sherry.

The package contains three main components: it fixes issues with the ownership of abandoned homes in mobile home parks, changes rental requirements and revises licensing requirements for owners.

House Bill 4304 will ensure that a mobile home park owner who wants to acquire an abandoned home will have to reimburse the homeowner for the value of the property. Later, that company takes away the economic incentive to pursue the title deed of an abandoned property, according to Sherry.

House Bill 4302 also requires that mobile home park owners provide a lease or lease agreement of at least one year to their tenants. According to Cherry, no one-year lease is currently required for mobile home park owners, leaving those without a one-year lease subject to any changes the landlord wishes to make at any time.

House Bill 4298 will require owners rather than operators, as currently written, to comply with revised requirements for obtaining and renewing a mobile park owner’s license. House Bill 4301 will also require a database of mobile home park owners, their contact information as well as licensing information.

Sherry said these laws are a way to “prevent bad actors from doing business in Michigan while making sure that good actors… aren’t punished.”

“There’s a power imbalance because of the way you don’t own the land your house sits on,” said Sherry. “The importance of passing it now is that we can protect Michigan residents. How long do you want to wait before we decide we want to protect consumers?”

The six bills passed the Michigan House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support, but negotiations over the package came to an abrupt halt in the Senate when the Michigan Manufactured Housing Association (MMHA), which represents Michigan’s industry leaders, including Havenpark communities, withdrew. Support from the bill after working on it with other stakeholders.

Cherry said the reversal of MMHA support was “surprising and disappointing because all of the changes we made to the package… were made unanimously by all of the people sitting at the table.”

In a statement to Bridge Michigan, MMHA wrote that after being worked on by several stakeholders, including MMHA, the resulting bills “represent changes in the existing organizational structures of the Michigan manufactured housing industry that the industry cannot support.” The Ministry of Home Affairs and Social Affairs did not specify the exact new procedures in the bill package they opposed.

MMHA wrote that companies participating in the MMHA “will support certain legislative changes to strengthen industry regulation,” but did not specify what type of changes they would support.

Without industry support, the package might have difficulty getting it through the Senate, said Jim Schafsma, a housing law attorney with the Michigan Poverty Law Program who was part of the negotiations surrounding the bill.

“Negotiations collapsed because this interest (group) was an essential part … in the current legislature, and without the support of that group, the prospects for passing these laws were very slim,” Shaafsma said.

The bill is awaiting action from the Michigan Senate’s Regulatory Reform Committee.

Rising rents, growing frustration

The bill’s halt came as a disappointment to Holly Hook, a resident of Swartz Creek Estates and co-founder of Michigan Mobile Home Residents for Affordable Housing, who has helped organize residents and advocate for these bills. Hawke was also appointed to the Fabricated Housing Commission by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2021 and testified before Congress regarding living in a mobile home park also owned by Havenpark Communities.

“We really need those bills right now,” Hook said. Because at the moment, the population has no sanctuary. Business owners can come and ship whatever they want. We have no way of responding.”

Nationally, industry leaders told the Washington Post in June that average rental rates are rising by about 4 to 6 percent each year.

The prices of manufactured homes are also rising. Across the Midwest, the median selling price for a new factory home was $74,200 in January 2020 while in February 2022, it was $115,500, according to Census data. The average selling price of a new home in the first quarter of 2022 was $430,500, while the average in the first quarter of 2020 was $337 thousand, according to census data.

At Hook Park, she said she has seen her rents increase by more than 50 percent since July 2018, with additional fees also separated from the base rental price. Havenpark Communities is just one of many private equity firms, in Michigan and across the country, that have purchased thousands of manufactured home communities across the country.

Havenpark Communities has purchased at least 18 mobile communities across Michigan since 2018, which includes 4,881 sites, according to the Fabricated Housing Procedure.

Havenpark Communities also recently announced plans to double the number of manufactured homes at Rivers Edge Mobile Home Park in Clinton Township.

Bridge Michigan has not been able to independently verify the scope of the rent increases. In a statement to Bridge Michigan, Havenpark Communities spokesperson Josh Weiss wrote that “the vast majority of our Michigan properties have annual rent increases of $20-30” and that the rent increases help offset higher operating costs and provide a portion of the needed financing. to modernize community infrastructure and facilities.”

Weiss added that “since we came to the state more than 3 years ago, we have invested far more in community upgrades and improvements than we received in additional rent increases.”

In Alpine Village, Chrissy Hill, a treasurer and single mother of a son with Down syndrome, told Bridge, Michigan that she hasn’t seen any improvements in her garden with the rent increase. Before Havenpark Communities bought her park, Hill said she paid $365 a month for a plot of land rent with additional fees included; She said the total jumped to $457 with no additional fees included.

In addition to her job as a cashier, she’s also resorted to donating plasma to keep up with rising rental prices.

“They’re making it more difficult than it has to be,” Hill said. “We are there for a reason. We are there because we are going through hard times. They are taking advantage of that.”

“We’re stuck,” Hill said. “We have nowhere else to go, we are literally stuck.”

Grant said he and other residents who championed the bipartisan bill package are just people “trying to be heard” and that these bills offer ways to improve their lives in mobile home parks.

“A lot of times, companies don’t notice the little guy, they kind of beat people up,” Grant said. “All we want is just like what we had before.”

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