Guest column: Mobile home conditions symptom of real problem

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Des Moines Register
By: Joe Kelly
August 1, 2010

The Register has recently published numerous articles and editorials on conditions in Iowa mobile home rental properties owned by the Churchill Group of Carbondale, Colo. The Iowa Manufactured Housing Association (IMHA) will not defend Churchill.

They, and others who operate in the same fashion, have no defense. And if you're expecting IMHA to bash the Register, forget about it. Register reporter Lee Rood was doing her job. We're hopeful the light being shone on our industry's problems will assist in finding a solution.

Would we have been happier if significant space had been given to highlight the outstanding manufactured housing communities we have in Iowa? Of course we would.

Do other housing sectors have problems? Yes, they do.

But complaining about these omissions could be viewed as trying to duck the real issue at hand.

The manufactured housing industry cannot afford to dismiss the reality that there are some owners of mobile home communities in this state who aren't maintaining their properties and aren't treating their residents properly. We understand all too well there are situations in our communities that result in residents being evicted. In some instances, rent isn't paid. There are residents not abiding by the rental contracts they signed upon taking residence in the community.

However, residents don't deserve the highest rent in the county, while receiving the worst services and facing conditions potentially harmful to their health and safety. State law, Chapter 562B, requires owners of manufactured housing communities to maintain a habitable space for homes and to obey all state and local health and safety regulations.

Johnson County is stating it didn't have the authority to enforce the safe water laws, citing the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as the proper enforcement authority. DNR is dealing with loss of funding. However, it appears that the Iowa City Regency water issue has been going on for years. If DNR doesn't have the resources to handle the situation, clearly legislation is needed to allow Johnson County to do the enforcement.

There are cities and counties with health and safety regulations that aren't responding when residents in mobile home communities call seeking assistance. Residents have called IMHA saying local governments tell them they don't have the authority to inspect. We disagree with that stance. If clarification is needed, we'll support state legislation. It's unacceptable for government to treat citizens differently based on where they reside.

Aside from ethical and moral implications about how people are to be treated, it is simply poor business for our industry to allow some mobile home community owners to give all a bad name. Most businesses are fearful of regulation because it often turns into overregulation. However, continued lack of adequate regulation is only going to feed an atmosphere that will result in potential customers choosing not to purchase manufactured homes.

IMHA is going to request legislation in the 2011 session that is resident-friendly, no matter which political party is in control and no matter who is elected governor. Others will have legislative ideas. We will review all proposals with an open mind.

Finally, we find the Register's July 18 editorial ironic ("Iowa Should Create More Affordable Housing"). The Register's position is that a system is needed to mass produce affordable houses. The manufactured housing industry has been doing this for six decades. The industry already has a 43 percent market share of all houses built in the United States, excluding land, sold for under $150,000. Our building cost is about $40 per square foot. If Iowa State University -- as suggested by the Register -- or others can help us become more efficient, we're ready to learn.

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This page contains a single entry by CFED published on August 2, 2010 2:55 PM.

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