Selling points

Complaints of mobile park owners blocking sales and managing heavy-handedly surface... again

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Jerry Allen

Jerry Allen wants to sell his home. All he has to do is move it out of Boulder.

Allen, 62, and his wife own a manufactured (or mobile) home in the Boulder mobile home park Vista Village. The Allens recently finished building their dream lodge in Estes Park and went to the Vista Village management office to tell them they were planning to sell their home.

Allen, like every other manufactured home owner, owns the domicile but rents the land on which the home sits. Allen pays $600 a month to Vista Village, owned by Harvey Miller, a California-based property manager. Allen bought the home for $24,500 eight years ago. Based on nearby property sales, Allen thinks he can get close to $50,000 for it. That $30,000 nest egg is what Allen was relying on to make the move to Estes Park.

But when he went to the management office, Allen was told he would have to move his home if he wanted to sell it. Or he could destroy it. This rendered any sale virtually profitless. Vista Village claimed that because the home was built prior to June 15, 1976, it did not meet HUD codes of safety and therefore could not remain in the park. This is despite the fact that Allen had bought the home previously in the park, and that dozens of other sales of pre-1976 homes had been approved.

Allen wrote the out-of-state property owner, Harvey Miller, twice seeking resolution. He did not hear back. Instead, he went back to the local Vista Village property manager with his issue, who he claims then changed their story and said they simply had the “absolute, unqualified right to deny any sale.”

And indeed they do. In referring to Allen’s contract, he says they pointed to a clause titled, “Rental homes not permitted,” that says, “Lessee agrees that if he should sell a mobile home located on the leased premises, the sales agreement will provide for delivery of the mobile home to the buyer at some location outside of and not within the Vista Village boundary.”

But Allen wondered: Doesn’t that mean every mobile home has to be moved from Vista Village upon sale? Why are some people forced to move their homes and others aren’t?

Neither Vista Village nor Harvey Miller returned calls for this story. Looking at past issues with Vista Village, which date back decades, this is not atypical.

“We own our own home and what they’re doing is they’re just devastating people by forcing them to leave the park with their trailer,” Allen says. “There’s $10,000 to $20,000 worth of value in the trailer just because it sits in Boulder. To have to pull it out, you can’t find another park probably in the state to put it.”

Allen’s case highlights a bigger issue with the regulation of mobile parks in Boulder County and elsewhere in the state. Mobile home owners, Boulder City Council and state legislators have tried for decades and continue to try to rein in mobile park owners who are often slow to respond to tenant complaints and inconsistent in enforcing regulations, like those related to the sale of Allen’s home.

Reforming mobile park oversight starts with reforming the state’s Mobile Home Park Act. There’s nothing in the act that prohibits mobile park owners from forcing tenants to move their manufactured homes at the point of sale. Allen says in researching the act for his own case (he and others filed a grievance with the Boulder District Attorney), he’s only gained more questions about the origins of the Mobile Home Park Act.

“It was written by lobbyists for the industry,” Allen says. “Basically there’s no teeth in it. There’s no penalty to these guys to what they’re doing, and they know their customers, us, are on the lower rung of the economic ladder, in Boulder for certain, and that they don’t have the time and resources to fight them.”

The mobile park owner industry is fairly influential in Denver, sending lobbyists that have helped craft and block legislation relating to mobile park regulations. For instance, a bill proposed in 2015 by State Sen. John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins) would’ve changed the act’s language from “Mobile Home Park” to “Manufactured Home Community,” and set up a fund to help manufactured home owners. It was defeated in the finance committee.

In 2010, when the impetus came from Boulder, Sen. Rollie Heath cosponsored a bill that provided a few modest improvements in the rights of mobile home owners. That legislation gave mobile home owners 60 days to move once evicted, required mobile home park owners to provide reliable sewage and waste, and specified that homeowners in mobile home parks have the right to peacefully assemble in the streets or common areas of a park to establish a homeowners association.

And even that modest legislation was a long time coming. Boulder Weekly first reported in 1994 that residents in the mobile park Boulder Meadows were “reporting a high level of intimidation,” from management, and that people were being evicted on “trumped up charges,” like dented bed skirts and having too much “junk” in the yard.

In 2010, Vista Village management put up a fence that blocked public access to the Boulder Creek path, which allowed residents to access numerous recreational facilities. (At the time, the Daily Camera reported that Harvey Miller didn’t respond to inquiries either.) Allen says he was “instrumental” in removing that fence and says that could factor into why he’s being forced to move his home and others aren’t.

“[Sellers] are not required to pump [their homes] out of here, unless management doesn’t like the person,” Allen says. “Now I was quite vocal in that effort to remove the fence … and then they talked about my skirting. They at one time said, ‘You have to fix your skirting within five days or you’re going to face eviction.’

“You have to figure, the way the laws are set up, people feel like they’re living under a Gestapo. If you voice anything, you’re going to get notices about all these nitpicky things. If you don’t fix this, you’ll be evicted in five days.”

Boulder City Councilwoman Mary Young points again to Boulder Meadows as an example of a mobile park blocking access to the greater community with arbitrary constructions and regulations that only “make sense for their bottom line.” The park closed off an access point on the western edge of the park that allowed residents to walk past new development at 13th Street and access the bus. She says the fence creates a big issue in the community.

“We have the goal in our community to make it a walk-able city, and if you have to walk a half mile extra just to get out of your mobile home park, that’s not very walk-able,” Young says.

Glenn Couch, a regional director for Uniprop, a Michigan company that runs Boulder Meadows, says the fence was put up for safety reasons.

“There has been an instance where [community members] wanted access to a bus stop but we were unable to provide a safe access point where they were requesting it, but the buses run throughout the community,” Couch says. “Bus stops are readily available in a number of locations within our community.”

On the issue of resale, Couch says Uniprop would “not preclude sales for pre-1976 homes,” or any other homes for that matter. It enforces cleanliness and safety regulations and only makes judgments on community tenants, Couch says.

Young says there is very little the city can do to prevent park owners from putting up fences or to block sales of tenant housing. Young says she and another council member have already approached City Attorney Tom Carr to find solutions.

“A solution would have to probably entail money,” Young says. “Helping the mobile home owner to be able to get a new mobile home, a new manufactured home, because a lot of the time if they’re put into a new situation, they can’t get money out of their current home, so how are they going to get another one? That’s the one solution we might be able to have some control over.”

Young says the ultimate solution rests with state legislators. To that end, Allen says he’s written to state legislators asking to amend the Mobile Home Park Act. His recommendations include preventing mobile park owners from forcing the removal of any home based on its uninhabitability unless approved by the city and the Colorado Division of Housing; prohibiting park owners from making “absolute and unqualified” judgments on things that affect tenants (like home sales and fence building); and preventing park owners from removing tenants based on “just cause,” unless that cause is verified by the city.

Allen says he’s cautiously hopeful that legislation will change to protect mobile park tenants. But he also adds that the issue is only going to get bigger in the coming years.

“I just feel like the lobbyists for the industry have got the legislature bamboozled in their pocket,” Allen says. “But then also, in America, I’m 62 years old, there’s the stigma of living in mobile homes, trailer trash, etc., but we’re talking about Boulder, Colorado. There’s a physicist across the street from me, there’s an attorney, there’s a guy who’s a life skills instructor. There’s a higher clientele in these parks right now, and the economy the way it’s going and with corporate America coming over, mobile homes are going to be a part of the middle class, so we have to fix these rules.”

Young agrees that change will come through legislation.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right,” she says.