Iowa lawmakers unveil bills to reform manufactured housing park laws

Iowa lawmakers unveil bills to reform manufactured housing park laws

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DES MOINES -- When it comes to protections for manufactured housing park tenants, Iowa lawmakers have picked up where they left off last year, and then some.

Bipartisan coalitions of lawmakers introduced identical 26-page bills in the state House and Senate Wednesday morning, seeking to plug what affordable housing advocates have outlined as holes in the state’s manufactured housing laws.

Those apparent holes came under scrutiny over the past year, after park residents began expressing concern over out-of-state companies buying manufactured-housing communities across Iowa and raising lot rents up to 69 percent.

In spring 2019, the Iowa Senate unanimously amended and advanced a bill to require an 180-day notice of rent increases at manufactured-housing parks. The measure came in the final days of the legislative session, however, and failed to make it through the House.

Those concerns culminated in a December public hearing at the state Capitol, during which at least 85 residents, advocates and elected officials gathered, and several shared stories about their experiences under new out-of-state ownership.

State Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said the bills are intended to create balance within Iowa’s current manufactured housing laws — a playing field he described as “one-sided” in the favor of landlords over tenants.

“If this bill becomes law, it will be the largest increase in resident protections in a generation, and that’s something I think a lot of people are going to be very excited about,” Wahls, a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said on Tuesday.

Should the bills become law, manufactured-housing landlords would have to establish “just cause” to evict a tenant — if the tenant demonstrated a material non-compliance with the rental agreement or violation of the community rules.

The landlord no longer could evict a tenant strictly with 60 days’ notice and no reason given.

“When you talk to residents, they understand very clearly that they can be evicted for any reason or no reason at all, and so it creates a sense of fear around speaking up for their rights or anything like that,” Wahls said.

Park owners would have to give 180 days’ notice, rather than 60, before raising lot rents, and only could do so once each year.

If the increases amounted to more than the average annual increase of the Midwest region’s consumer price index, the landlord must justify the cost to residents — with permissible explanations including the cost of capital improvements or reasonable operating and maintenance expenses.

The bills would clarify that manufactured housing law violations constitute unlawful consumer fraud practices, giving the Iowa Attorney General’s Office permission to enforce provisions.

And the legislation would make Iowa’s manufactured housing laws more consistent with its landlord-tenant act, governing apartment renters, in multiple areas.

These include doubling a six-month presumption of retaliation against tenants evicted after complaining, and giving tenants the ability to pursue remedies against landlords who violate lease agreements or unlawfully oust them.

Iowa lawmakers worked with the Iowa Manufactured Housing Association, to which most major out-of-state park owners belong, according to a legislative summary from Wahls.

Among the concessions were the inclusion of a “rent justification” rather than a “rent cap” provision, and removing a proposal that would have required landlords seeking to sell their communities to first offer it to residents.

Even so, Wahls said he believes the bill remains strong and an improvement from the status quo.

Photos: Gov. Kim Reynolds gives the Condition of the State

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