A new bill passed by the state Senate on Wednesday would give mobile home park residents the first chance to buy their land if the park’s owner decides to sell the property.
The bill, which passed 26-9 after a three-hour debate, was drafted in response to an outcry from mobile home tenants throughout the state who have reported spikes in monthly rents and deferred maintenance after large investment firms purchased their parks from local landlords.
The proposed legislation requires that people living in Connecticut mobile home parks be informed when the land is changing ownership — either through a sale or a new lease — and be given the right of first refusal before the owner can accept other offers.
Residents of Beechwood Mobile Home Park in Killingworth, which houses people ages 55 and older, held a gathering in August with local politicians to criticize a 4.6 percent rent hike in one year — more than double the previous average of 2 percent a year — and various maintenance problems, notably a need for retaining walls on several properties and faulty septic systems.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, who attended the meeting along with state lawmakers, later signed a letter calling for the Federal Housing Finance Agency to institute more protections for tenants in mobile home communities.
On Wednesday, State Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, said she has since spoken with multiple mobile home tenants who expressed concerns about potential rent hikes under new park owners. After negotiating with both groups, Moore said they agreed on the amended version of the bill she was proposing.
“I listened to the residents — who would be the buyers — and I listened to the sellers. And we spent a lot of time negotiating back and forth in good faith between the buyer and seller to come up with something that they both could live with,” Moore said.
Dave DeLohery, president of the Connecticut Manufactured Homeowners’ Alliance, the organization representing mobile home owners, told CT Examiner on Wednesday that they had met at least twice with the Connecticut Manufactured Housing Association, the organization representing park owners, to discuss the bill. Representatives from the latter group declined to comment on the proposed legislation.
But not all senators were in favor of the measure.
State Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, argued the proposal was unfair because it favored one group of people over another.
“The role of government is not to determine who deserves what rights and who does not. Our job is to protect the rights of all of the people that we represent,” Sampson said. “This bill is not about empowering anyone. It is about depriving the rights of a certain group of people.”
Sampson, who spoke for the majority of the debate, proposed five amendments to the bill, none of which garnered enough votes to pass. He protested that the length of time granted for tenants to decide whether to purchase the park — 180 days — is too long, and would deter other potential buyers. He also said the bill put too many burdens on park owners, including requiring them to notify tenants of a potential sale, lease or transfer of the park in three different ways, and to inform mobile home owners of their rights under the new law.
State Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, also challenged a section in the bill requiring park owners to share offers from other potential buyers with the mobile home owners, giving them an opportunity to match the price.
“[Realtors] do not reveal what an offer is. We could have 10 different offers and we do not reveal the price to anybody. We’re bound by a code of ethics, really,” Martin said. “In addition to that, should we have an offer, we are not to make that offer known to anybody until the actual closing of the transaction.”
Sampson and Martin also argued against a provision that exempts park owners from paying state or local conveyance tax if they sell the property to a group of at least 50 percent of their tenants.
Moore said the conveyance tax provision, based on a similar bill in Rhode Island, was created as an incentive for park owners to give tenants the first opportunity to buy the land.
“It recognizes that the park owner may have delayed closing on the original deal in order to give the park residence the time to purchase,” she said.
Democratic senators also argued that mobile home parks are essential to addressing the state’s shortage of affordable housing. State Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, described the bill as an expansion of a law passed in the 1990s allowing mobile park residents to purchase a park when the owner planned to shut it down.
“What we’re saying now and what we’re seeing is that parks are not closing. They’re being sold and bought by investors who are then raising the rent on the land,” Maroney said. “So [mobile home owners] own the home, but not the land. And [park owners] are raising that rent on that land to make profit — which, again, is their right as a business. But the mobile homeowners cannot easily move, and they are stuck.”
State Sen. Jorge Cabrera, D-Hamden, whose district includes the River’s Edge Mobile Home Community in Beacon Falls, noted that many mobile home park residents in his district were elderly and on a fixed income, or veterans.
“In some cases, perhaps in some quarters, an extra $50, $100, 150, $200 a month may not seem like a lot. But for many of these folks, it is,” Cabrera said.
DeLohery told CT Examiner he was disappointed by Sampson’s reluctance to support the bill, but noted that three Republicans voted in favor of the draft legislation.
“To me, the most important thing is that it represents a realization on the part of people in government at this point that we have to find ways to support affordable housing, and this is a sign that they’ve started to realize that mobile homes are a part of that solution,” he said.