Sen. Richard Blumenthal outlined his proposal for a federal mobile homeowners “Bill of Rights” during a visit to the Southington Municipal Building Wednesday and had some strong words for businesses that buy up such properties, hike rents and fail to provide timely services.
Blumenthal said the behavior on the part of some owners of such communities – often hedge fund companies and or large out-of-town corporations – is “unfair and un-American, in my opinion. It’s an uphill battle because the special interests opposing us are powerful and have lobbyists and lawyers, but we can be successful.”
Blumenthal, who first broached a tenants bill of rights in 2022, spoke before about 60 tenants from several mobile home communities in the state, but primarily residents from one of four Sun Communities-owned properties in Southington and from Sun Communities-owned Beechwood in Killingworth.
Blumenthal said he’s hopeful the idea will have bipartisan support, and would establish a set of standards for mobile home tenants in communities that receive federal financing through Fannie Mae or the Federal Housing Administration.
Among other things, the proposal calls for the right to a one-year renewable lease absent good cause for nonrenewal; a five-day grace period for late rent payments; a minimum 60-day written notice of rent increases or new added charges like water or sewer of up to 5% of the prior rent, with longer notice for larger rent increases. An additional 30 days would be required for each 2.5% rent increase above 5%.
The proposal would also give tenants the right to sell the manufactured home without having to relocate it; sublet the home or assign the lease to a buyer of the home provided that buyer meets certain rules and regulations; to sell the manufactured home in place within 45 days after eviction, to prevent the homeowner from losing their equity; and mandates tenants receive at least 60 days advance notice of a planned sale or closure, among others.
“You buy your home and you maintain it and you should receive support from the owner of that mobile home and to be treated, as many of you have, is a profound disservice. It’s shameful and disgraceful to the community and to the basic ideals of good business and good citizens,” the senator said.
Mobile home advocates and tenants said there are many concerns but the biggest are large rate hikes which, they argue, are unfair. They say large corporations, like Michigan-based Sun Communities, shouldn’t be allowed to buy mobile homes and hike rents while they are also seeking low-interest government loans from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to pay for it.
“It was kind of an unwritten rule that was in effect for many, many years that park [mobile] owners would keep [rent and service] increases affordable,” Dave DeLohery, president of the Connecticut Mobile Homeowners’ Alliance told CT Examiner. “But, with the influx of corporate money, that unwritten rule is no longer being observed.”
The alliance represents about 30 of the approximate 200 mobile home communities, including all of the Sun Communities, in the state.
DeLohery said most tenants are older, many in their 70s and 80s, are retired, and live on a fixed income. “These out-of-state corporations have been buying up [mobile home] parks over the last decade, especially, at an accelerated rate,” he said.
DeLohery said rent hikes were typically no more than 5% a year and, he said, they were usually lower. But, “for the last couple of years, they have been really hiking the rent, to levels more than 7%.”
Typical rents for mobile home communities range from about $400 to about $800 a month, according to the homeowners alliance.
Loretta Giddix has lived at Cedar Springs Mobile Home Community in Southington, a Sun Communities facility, for six years. Giddix told CT Examiner that when she first moved in rent was less than $460 a month and is now approaching $600 a month. She said when she first arrived, a typical rent increase was about $12 a year but said those increases have gone from $20 a year to $24 a year to $39 a year the last three years.
That type of increase for elderly tenants who live on a fixed income takes its toll, Giddix said, noting that “five tenants moved out because they could not afford it.”
Giddix said it’s not just the rent increases that have irked residents since Sun Communities purchased the park several years ago.
“They increased the rent and took services away,” Giddix said. “They used to pick up bulk trash everyday but now they do it once a year. They want you to hide your [bulk] garbage until they come to get it. But, we have no attic and no basement to put it in. They also do not mow the lawns or plow the driveways.” And, Giddix said, management just started to clean the shrubs again “after many complaints.”
Management for the Southfield, Michigan-based Sun Communities wasn’t able to comment on the tenants concerns prior to publication.
Giddix said she’d favor a rent increase cap, similar to one implemented in New York state. In New York, owners of mobile home parks are not allowed to increase rents more than 3.25% a year.
On Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill giving mobile home tenants first refusal before the owner can accept other offers. Neither the state bill or the federal proposal being pushed by Blumenthal include a rent increase cap.
Blumenthal however, told those in attendance that he will continue to come back to communities like Southington to push for federal legislation for mobile home tenants and wouldn’t stop lobbying his colleagues until such a measure becomes law.
“You have been tireless fierce advocates,” Blumenthal told the tenants who came to hear him speak. “I’ve heard you loud and clear. I will continue to come out here and listen some more. I also know many of you are justifiably angry and you have a right to be. Your anger is part of the reason that we are moving forward with legislation.”
Al Hricz, vice president of the homeowners’ alliance said he believes the general public at large has a misperception about people who live in mobile home parks. Hricz lives in Ryder Woods in Milford, one of only three resident-owned mobile home communities in the state.
“I think some people think that they [mobile home tenants] are undesirable and that’s just not true; far from it,” Hricz said. “These are people that, in most cases, are on a fixed income. They just like living in mobile homes. We are just like everyone else.”