All mankind... being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.
- John Locke
Park Model Owners Rights When Selling! SB1146 is now law. Leff Makes Right.
On April 20, 2010, SB1146 was signed into law by Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer. This bill amends ARS 31-2102 of the Long Term Space Rental Act AKA RV Act (LTSRA). The RV Act pertains to leases of land to park models owners (RV Resort residents who rent annual spaces containing permanent homes) which exceed 180 days. This new law change addresses the discrimination that many RV/park model owner residents have faced over the last decade in regard to their private property rights. When the RV Act was passed by state legislature in 1999 certain provisions were left out that could have protected thousands of residents from losing their homes over the last 10 years.
A few land owners who own RV/Park Model communities (mostly out of state corporations) have taken advantage of these loop holes in the law and implemented rules and regulations in their communities slanted to the financial benefit of the land owner. This has contributed to the diminishment of value of a certain type of housing which is called a park model. Park models are considered personal property and like manufactured homes which are placed on leased land lots, this type of chattel are titled like cars and ownership transfers are currently facilitated through the Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division (MVD). A resident of an RV/Park Model community and who holds title to this type of home also maintains a home owner’s insurance policy, pays property taxes and an annual space rent to the land/community owner.
SB1146 helps to “level the playing field” between the interest of the land owner and the park model (chattel) owner. This law prevents a community from prohibiting individual for sale signs and the common practice of forcing a resident who owns a park model to list their home with the internal community owned sales agency as their only alternative for professional representation. Park model owners will now have more options when attempting to sell their homes than having to compete with their own community for buyers, paying costly tear down, transport and relocation fees and turning over their titles to the land owner or paying on-going annual space rent while they wait for their home to sell.
During this 49th Legislature Second Regular Session hearing and floor voting process, it was clear that many of our state legislators had never heard of a park model or understood the difference between the laws that govern them versus manufactured homes and why this bill was necessary. Since their inception in the mid 80’s park models have been categorized and legally defined as a “Recreational Vehicle” (RV). In order to maintain this definition these types of dwellings must leave their factories with a total interior square footage of 400 or less. Park models can mostly be found in RV Resorts which are not covered by the Arizona Manufactured Home Landlord Tenant Act which came into existence in the late 80’s. They do not enjoy the same protection under law as a similar factory built housing product (over 400sq’) which is legally defined as a “manufactured home”.
Perhaps park of all the confusion in understanding the difference between the two types of manufactured housing products is that to the naked eye park models look just like manufactured homes so why would they be treated differently to begin with? That’s a good questions and one that upon research can be answered by two words; lobby power. In the minutes of the committee meetings during the original legislation which created the Long Term Space Rental Act, language in the bills originally provided for the same types of protection though certain special interest associations and government lobbyist opposed their categorization as a manufactured home. A bill was introduced in the late 90’s that would have included park models under the manufactured housing laws but was defeated because their was no advocacy for the park model owners with a big enough stick to fight off their being grouped in under other laws pertaining to travel trailers and motor homes.
These typically 1BR/1BA homes are set up in communities on an annual basis with attached carports, workshops and room additions. Similar to manufactured homes, they are most often anchored to the ground, have cement driveways, and are connected to utilities, set up permanently on a lot with a necessity for on-site utilities including sewer /septic lines, water and electric. Unlike other types of recreational vehicles, park models do not contain components typical to RV’s such as holding tanks, electric jacks, hydraulic brakes, roof air conditioning, generators, etc. and are not designed to be towed behind a truck to multiple locations. Other types of RV’s such as fifth wheel trailers, motor homes and travel trailers are built to be road worthy and are self contained with no need for on-site utilities to function.
Most Park Models are manufactured in the same manufactured housing plants as manufactured homes, with similar construction specifications such as 2’ X 4” centers, drywall interior walls, cathedral ceilings, shingle roofs and built-in appliances which must be connected to on-site utilities for their operation. Since their inception, however, park models have legally been defined as a “Recreational Vehicle” (RV) and therefore are not mandated by law to be constructed according to “HUD code” as defined by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Rather the standards for construction must only meet ANSII standards which pertain to recreational vehicles and other non-habitable structures.
Manufactured homes are required to have HUD insignia’s and their production, installation, broker/dealer licensing and Manufactured Housing Landlord Tenant Act is administered through the Department of Administration and is maintained and enforced through the Department of Building Fire and Life Safety through the Office of Manufactured Housing. These agencies fall under the Executive branch of the Arizona government responsible for the administrative and enforcement functions required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through the Executive Branch of the Federal government.
During its journey though our state legislature SB1146 became an interesting hearing to witness as it brought forth questions from committee members and others which helped to clarify this type of hybrid home indigenous to certain regions of the US and owned in great part by our winter visitor population known as snowbirds. Park models became an answer to those demanding the RV park lifestyle but were unwilling to deal with the work it takes to own an actual RV. Snowbirds could still escape the cold winter months, come and play with their friends, keep a low maintenance relatively inexpensive winter home without the ongoing stress of hauling tons of steel behind their vehicles or having to face the hazards associated with winter road travel. Many have purchased second vehicles they would keep covered under their carports rather than drive on icy roads at all.
Beginning in the early 80’s park trailers became the first popular alternative to travel trailers and could be kept in the same location on an annual basis. The demand arose from many snowbirds staying for longer periods of time and wanted more space than just an 8’ portable road vehicle. The industry demand created this first type of park model that contained extra living space in the living room and bedroom areas. Once these got approved by legislature, the home owner would have an extra 80’ of living space. Many snowbirds began trading in their travel trailers, fifth wheels and motor homes for these more attractive park trailers, which were a precursor to our new modern day park models.
Once again, trailer park owners lobbied legislature to allow the larger park models in their communities while still allowing the RV parks their status and self rule under existing hotel/motel laws. This encouraged guaranteed annual income for the community owners since these types of RV’s would not be removed from the community like other RV’s winter visitors would unhook from sewer and take home with them when they would leave in the spring. Soon the demand for Park Models abound as land owners relished in their massive guaranteed annual incomes while park model manufacturers revved up production and park model “street dealer” retailers began lining their pockets.
Since the early 90’s over 150,000 park models have been sold in Arizona. Park models can range in price from $10,000 to $200,000 depending on the bells and whistles, room addition and community location. Park model communities are concentrated in the Mesa, Apache Junction, Sun City, Yuma, Show Low and Casa Grande, Arizona. They are also popular in other winter destinations such as Texas, Palm Springs, CA, Florida and certain parts of Colorado. Annual space rentals for park models range from $3000 to $10,000 per year. These homes have been manufactured by such big names as Cavco, Palm Harbor, Fleetwood, Skyline, Hallmark and others. They are produced in the same factories as “manufactured homes” by the same assembly line workers with the same materials.
Expert testimony was submitted during the Senate and House Commerce and Economic Development Hearings from professionals representing various segments of Arizona’s industries which are affected by park models including banking, transport, lending and appraisal organizations. They all substantiated that a park model is considered a manufactured home by most segments of these industries. Park model owners also testified of the many instances they or their friends where their efforts to dispose of their property were impeded by the park owned sales office. In an original testimony by Earl Lundin from South Dakota, one of his friends lost not only his home but over $30,000 from his farming operation when he had to fly back to Arizona to tear down his park model and Arizona Room to move it out of the community where he lives because he was evicted for letting one of his friends use his home without going through the park owned rental and sales office. These communities can currently evict without a cause.
One of the original provisions of the RV Act was that a landlord could non-renew a long term annual lease “without cause”. What this essentially meant was that for any reason they wanted, a landlord could request that a resident who paid annual rent on a park model could evict that resident without cause. As a result of this power, many landowners have implemented rules and regulations at their discretion and without input from the resident that if the resident doesn’t like or weren’t in place when the park model was moved into the community, the resident could be forced to leave. Tearing down and moving a park model, similar to the moving and set up fees associated with manufactured home relocation, can be a very costly and arduous process.
Once unique to winter visitors these types of homes have also become an affordable housing option for many seniors who now live in these on a year round basis and who survive solely on their social security checks and Medicare. Recreational vehicle/park model communities now report that up to 30-40% of their annual park model spaces are resided in by annual residents. Many of these annual residents offer summer care and other services for those who are gone “back home” during the hotter months and derive extra income from offering their services to those with more disposable income.
Since most park model owners are senior citizens on fixed incomes, they would rather turn over their titles to the land owner than face the stress of standing up for themselves or face the prospect of constructing their homes on another location in a different community where they could face the same dilemma. Others suffer silently not wanting to give up their friends and are forced to endure emotional, mental, physical and psychological abuse by tyrannical management than move away from their support system.
During one of the committee hearings on a related bill (HB2255), one of the Senators asked why someone would even want to live in a community where this kind of thing was happening; “Why wouldn’t a they just go get an apartment instead rather than deal with these horrible management practices”? For those unfamiliar with the type of fellowship and the active lifestyle the people in these communities experience because of their unique supportive relationships and active lifestyle, apartment living might seem like a reasonable solution. But for those who have experienced the joy of an active 55+ community, there is no doubt; this lifestyle is worth fighting for.
I once interviewed a widow who was being required to give her manager over $3000 to bring her home “up to code” for a supposed City setback violation. She and her husband had originally purchased the home from the park sales office run by the community manager. The fire code violation had not been disclosed to her when they had originally purchased the home. In fact she had a letter from the management when she and her husband bought the home that stated specifically that the home met all of the City of Mesa set back requirements and had been approved for resale in the community, signed by the manager.
This elderly woman was told that either she would pay the fee to the manager for the “upgrade” or she would not be allowed to sell her home. Her plan was to sell her smaller park trailer and upgrade to a larger full size park model with a room addition she had her eye on in the same community so she would have room for her kids to come visit. I offered to help her challenge the discrepancy in the parks disclosure of the violation and she hesitated. She said that since her husband died she didn’t know what she would do if she couldn’t escape the horrid Minnesota winter and come here to be with her friends. She would just give in to the unethical demands of the manager and “just be done with it”. She didn’t want to stand up for herself in fear of the possible retaliation.
In a recent survey of Maricopa County tax records of 6 communities, over 75% of the homes featured for sale on the communities’ website were actually owned by the community or others related to the management/ownership interest. These park owned homes are often advertised with “rent specials” and other special incentives on selected new and pre-owned “units”. The specials of course are not extended to the listings of existing residents who struggle to compete with their own community for buyers. The land owner’s main goal in most cases is to fill the community so it may generate as much income as possible. If a space is filled by an existing resident and park model, the sense of urgency is less since that resident has to pay their space rent regardless of whether they sell the home or not. Of course all home sales must be approved by management prior to the consummation of any transaction, even if the home owner is selling his own home.
Some communities have restricted free trade within their properties by requiring residents to utilize services such as carpet installation, roofing companies and other services that are “approved by management” often owned by management themselves. This has hurt dozens of local mom and pop businesses who once having a strong business presence in certain communities have been denied entrance to communities and threatened with trespassing violations they should continue to service their clients once the park has determined they are no longer authorized. Communities have taken the position of judge and jury claiming the right to void business contracts to which they have no interest.
Kara Holt, the President of Active Resort Properties Management Group, LLC a firm which specializes in manufactured home and park model sales to retirees in Arizona, formed a grassroots lobby organization called the Moms and Pops of America to address legislative issues affecting seniors and small business. She and others were the proponents of this legislation which became sponsored by Senator John Huppenthal and amended in the CED Committee by Senator Barbara Leff. Senator Leff also amended HB2255 which would limit the administrative fees imposed by communities for utility charges and remove the ability of these types of communities to evict “without cause”.
If HB225 passes it would empower park model residents to not live in fear of being evicted or losing their homes. If this legislation is passed some of the misused power could be taken away from unscrupulous management teams currently fueled by existing statute which allows the “without cause clause” to be used as an imminent threat to the elderly. This threat is often used (like a switching stick shown once in a while to a disobedient child yet kept in the closet) just to remind residents of what could happen to them if they are not compliant to whatever demands the manager deems appropriate; disclosed, written or not. Even though there are many well run, ethical communities which do not allow these practices in their communities, these problems remain with the ones that do. I guess what I heard once is true; “Laws aren’t made for the good apples”.
Support can be shown for this bill to our Arizona State Legislators by visiting the www.momsandpopsofamerica.com website and clicking on SUPPORT HB2255.
To support the volunteer lobbyist, please visit www.azActiveResorts.com to buy or sell your pre-owned park model or manufactured home.
Thanks to my son for being so patient, helpful and for filming the initial hearing of this bill. Thanks to Earl Lundin for being the one testimony in the beginning that made all of the difference. Thanks to Senator John Huppenthal, the bill sponsor and Senator Barbara Leff for allowing her committee to hear this bill. Thank you to all of the Senators who voted unanimously for this bill and those Representatives who voted to pass this bill. Thanks to Governor Brewer for signing this into law. Thanks to my office staff that put up with the endless deadlines and extra workloads; Peter Avery, Linda Luna and others. Thanks to the Phillip Austin Law Firm, Gerry Adcock, Jean Creagan, all the local businesses which let me put up posters and announcements including the Wild Berry Café, Weiss Guys Car Wash and the Bavarian Point Restaurant. Thanks to the experts who provided their testimony and the dozens of others who were willing to trust me enough to share their stories despite their fears. Thank you to Margaret Webb, the owner of the Raindance and Sundance Mobile Home parks for your testimony, speaking your mind and standing up for what is right and for being an ethical park owner. Thank you to Margaret Michelin for your encouragement and support. Most of all I thank God for his grace and promise to make a way for his people.
Senator Huppenthal is running for Superintendent for Public Instruction and Senator Leff is running for State Treasurer; please visit their websites: www.johnhuppenthal.com and www.barbaraleff.com and vote for them.