Mediation bill proposed to address manufactured park issues

Well over 100 residents from manufactured home parks in both Jackson and Josephine Counties learned that the proposed Manufactured Home Community Preservation Act of 2011is about rent justification, not rent control. At a meeting on September 11 at the Medford main library, a panel educated and answered audience questions about the upcoming legislation.

The panel consisted of Peter Ferris, Executive Director of Oregon Manufactured Homeowners United, Representative Peter Buckley who sponsors the legislative bill, Representative Sal Esquivel, Lynn Howe, running for Esquivel’s seat (District 6-Medford) and activist Eagle Point resident Monika Sayre.

Both Ferris and Buckley emphasized there is a big difference between rent justification and rent control. Rent control basically caps the amount rent can be increased with no exceptions. Rent justification is a mediation process that is fair to both park residents and landlords. The legislative bill requires landlords (park owners) to open their books to justify a rent increase if there is a complaint from a tenant (park resident). This might include showing what maintenance or improvements were done in a park. This gives the tenant some protection from losing, in many cases, what is their main asset.

The other side of the coin offers landlords protection by allowing them to file a complaint if they feel they are not receiving a fair rate of return. Speakers agreed that park owners deserve a return on their investment. Concerns have stemmed from some out-of-state owners that use parks as cash cows, said Ferris.

As a result of rent increases in the last five years sometimes up to five times the Consumer Price Index, people have had to abandon their homes. They no longer could afford the rent and selling was not a viable option as increased rent lowers the price of manufactured homes making it difficult to sell them, explained Ferris. In most cases the park owners suggested these seniors (or families) deed them their homes. As responsible people, the seniors would do just that and walk away rather than cause problems.

The bill, authored by Ferris, strives to level the playing field. Oregon has 1,262 parks but currently there is no resolution dispute program. The bill addresses this and allows both the landlord and tenants to file a complaint. “There is one thing about this mediation process that makes it have teeth,” said Ferris. “We are attempting to put this program through the Department of Justice and (Attorney General) John Kroger. He is the enforcer of laws in this state so he has the authority.”

When there is a complaint, program staff would coordinate a conference with the involved parties over the phone to see if there is a way for the problem to be solved. If there is a possible violation of a statute, on either side, the program could also investigate the issue. If indeed there is a violation, either the landlord or tenant would be asked to comply and if that failed and there was no compliance, a $500-a-day fine could be assessed. “And that gets everybody’s attention,” said Ferris to chuckles from the audience.

Giving an example, Ferris discussed a park where the landlord ignored serious drug problems that endangered other residents. He reassured those present that many parks do not have this type of problem but that the bill would offer speedy resolution to such issues.

Mediation is not free and the bill addresses cost. Every tenant in a park would pay only $5 a year towards the process and landlords would put in $5 for every unit in their park. This would generate about $600,000 annually for the program. In addition, each party can appeal a decision to an administrative law judge at no cost. Ferris feels the process will form some real partnerships between landlords and residents.

Park residents need to work to get this preservation act passed. Buckley emphasized that tenants from every community should talk to their legislators continuously, informing them on what is happening. Talking to elected officials, including city councilors and county commissioners, will corroborate and confirm what Ferris says.

When you talk to us, give us facts about what you are up against. What does a fixed income mean? Is your income $900 with a $350 rent? “What is the reality for you living in the park? Most of us don’t understand what it is to live in a park,” Buckley said.

Ferris added that tenants should e-mail, call or write a “real” letter to their legislators. “Squeaky wheels get the grease,” he stressed using an old but accurate adage. Sometimes a second call may be needed, said Esquivel. Real letters get attention and all phone calls are recorded. “Never send a form letter,” he said. It does not tell “your story” and it does not work. You need to work diligently and unite as a group. If you don’t, you won’t succeed.

As a nurse for 25 years, although not practicing now, Howe has visited many manufactured home parks and has found them to be beneficial for older people. Parks enable seniors to maintain independence and stay in their own homes longer because they are affordable, gives them their own space, neighbors that are close by and also offers some services.  “As an advocate for seniors, I think it is important that we keep manufactured home parks decent and alive in our community,” she said.

Summing it up an audience member said, “For most people, a mobile home park is the most economical way of living and it’s not one we want to give up.”

Ferris is an unpaid lobbyist. He said, “I always have a hard time asking for money.” But we need to have money to do what we have to do. It is a big session and costs are about $100 a day for the Travelodge Motel in Salem, meals and other expenses. Joining OMHU at $25a-year is a way to fund this endeavor. Make checks payable to OMHU and send to P.O. Box 309, Waldport, Or 97394. For more information call Ferris at 1-541-272-1648 or Monika Sayre at 541-826-2139
.By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent

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