Retaliation for Mobile Home Park Tenants Demanding Their Rights

February 11, 2014  |  Joan M. Quade

Mobile homes, or manufactured homes, are abundant across the United States. As of 2008, 3.7{a0c01d20c42349884e67ff80c137866b0a9fe47aaae8f8a86a605a369ae487c3} of the total housing in Minnesota was made up of manufactured homes. U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 American Community Survey; Tab. B25024.
In 2009, the Metropolitan Council, a Minnesota regional governmental and metropolitan planning agency, published its first report since 1988 with regard to Manufactured Home Parks in the Twin Cities. Metropolitan Council, MANUFACTURED HOME PARKS IN THE TWIN CITIES, January 2009. According to the report, manufactured homes make up 1.4{a0c01d20c42349884e67ff80c137866b0a9fe47aaae8f8a86a605a369ae487c3} of all homes in the seven-county metro area. Anoka County alone has twenty-four (24) parks, which is more than one in four of the metro area’s total manufactured home parks.

Mobile Home Owner Concerns

Many choose to live in a manufactured home because of the advantages; for example, manufactured homes are more affordable than conventional homes and zoning restrictions in rural communicates, where manufactured homes are common, are often less restrictive than in urban areas. Scommegna, Paola, Study Finds U.S. Manufactured-Home Owners Face ‘Quasi-Homelessness.’ However, most manufactured home owners don’t own the land on which their home rests. In effect, these homeowners are “landless,” leaving them at the mercy of the manufactured home park landlord.
The control and security normally associated with a conventional home is absent for owners of manufactured homes. Some landlords may choose to convert the use of the land to something other than a manufactured housing park and require that homeowners move off the property with short notice.
MANUFACTURED HOUSING RESOURCE GUIDE, Protecting Fundamental Freedoms in Communities, October 2010. Sometimes homeowners are simply evicted from the manufactured home park property. Because the cost of moving a manufactured home is anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000, owners of manufactured homes are often forced to sell or abandon their home when forced to leave a manufactured home park.
The National Consumer Law Center (“NCLC”) recommends four basic protections that all owners of manufactured homes should be provided in order to give residents stability in the location of their homes. Minnesota currently has statutes which govern all four of these protections, although the rules governing these protections are not as specific as NCLC recommends.
(1) Freedom of Association and Freedom of Speech, Minn. Stat. § 327C.13.
(2) Freedom from Retaliation, Minn. Stat. § 327C.12.
(3) Freedom from Eviction without Good Cause, Minn. Stat. § 327C.09.
(4) Protection of the Right to Sell the Home in Place, Minn. Stat. § 327C.07.

Freedom from Retaliation

Because most owners of manufactured homes do not own the land in the park where their home is, their position is precarious. Most people who claim their home as their most valuable asset are also not willing to risk it if they know that eviction is possible should they complain about anything. This fear of retaliation from the manufactured home park owner or landlord often times keeps residents from forming resident associations which could, in the long run, assist them with issues such as eviction, rent increase, poor services or management, and more.
Luckily, twenty-eight (28) states, including Minnesota, recognize that manufactured home park owner/landlord retaliation is a problem and prohibit retaliation against homeowners who become involved in resident associations.
Minnesota law provides that “A park owner may not increase rent, decrease services, alter an existing rental agreement or seek to recover possession or threaten such action in whole or in part as a penalty for a resident’s
(a) good faith complaint to the park owner or to a government agency or official;
(b) good faith attempt to exercise rights or remedies pursuant to state or federal law; or
(c) joining and participating in the activities of a resident association… .”
Minn. Stat. § 327C.12. Furthermore, as long as the resident of the manufactured home park challenges the action of the park owner within ninety (90) days after the resident engaged in one of the challenged actions, the owner must prove that his conduct was not retaliatory.
In other words, if a resident of a manufactured home park has an issue and he complains or attempts to join or form an association to protect his rights, a park owner cannot retaliate against him by evicting him, increasing his rent, or refusing to adhere to park policies or service amenities. One major problem with regards to retaliation is that it is often hard to prove the park owner’s intent for making such decisions affecting a homeowner in a manufactured home park. Once the presumption that the landlord or park owner is acting in a retaliatory way has been established, it is up to him to demonstrate that his actions were motivated by some legitimate business purpose. Parkin v. Fitzgerald, 307 Minn. 423, 429, 240 N.W.2d 828 (Minn. 1976).
A park owner has an opportunity to show a legitimate reason for the action taken, and if one can be shown, then a claim for retaliation will not succeed.
For instance, in a Minnesota case Schaff v. Hometown Am., L.L.C., 2005 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 43, 16 (Minn. Ct. App. July 5, 2005), the court held that rents being raised to cover a flat fee for utilities was not a retaliatory act on the part of the park owner. Even though the owner had sent a letter out to the park residents essentially admitting he had increased the rent and reverted back to flat fees because of a former class action lawsuit, the court still found that the owner had good reason for his actions and that the rent increase was not unreasonable.
In Brandondale, Ltd. v. Duren, 1995 Minn. App. LEXIS 79, 1 (Minn. Ct. App. Jan. 17, 1995), the court found that the park owner’s actions were not retaliatory when he commenced eviction within ninety (90) days of resident homeowners complaints about their garage. Three weeks had passed between an altercation regarding the garage and the park owner’s preparation and service of eviction and the court felt that this was a reasonable period of time.
Another way that park owners/landlords retaliate against or harass homeowners is to prohibit resident associations from meeting or organizing on the park premises. AARP Public Policy Institute, Manufactured Housing Community Tenants: Shifting the Balance of Power, 2004. These resident organizations are often one of the only methods for balancing the power inequity between the park owners and the homeowners. Resident associations advocate for homeowner and resident rights, police the park and the park owner to ensure compliance with local and federal laws, and also help residents negotiate rules, charges, and rental rates.
Everyone should feel a sense of safety and security in their home and have the opportunity to demand changes when quality of life is in question. No park owner or landlord should be able to retaliate against a homeowner for speaking up for his/her rights. If you think that you or someone you know has been evicted or somehow punished for speaking up regarding an issue in the manufactured home park, you may have a claim for retaliation.
If you have questions please contact our Litigation team at BGS.
This article is intended to provide general information only and should not be used as a substitute for legal counsel or advice. Laws, rules and regulations are constantly changing in this area and one should always call ahead and review the new procedures.
© 2014 Joan Marie Quade. All rights reserved.