Bill would give Florida mobile home park owners even more power over homeowners

A bill floating quietly through the Florida Legislature would give mobile home park owners the authority to enter a homeowner’s property to perform work and then charge the homeowner.

There are laws in place for park owners and homeowner associations to initiate fines relating to house and yard maintenance violations. However, entering private property — including the homes of tenant who rent lots — is not allowed unless it’s to make repairs to park infrastructure.

SB 1262, sponsored by Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, would change that.

The bill would amend existing law to authorize park owners or their management companies to not only enter someone’s property but hire workers to do so to, “ensure compliance in the future,” by forcing a homeowner to pay for work the park deems needs to be done.

“Though we do see the need for some method of keeping up appearances of the community, it is that ‘ensuring compliance’ that we object to,” said Jan McMeans, a mobile home owner and founder of Networks for Progress, a grassroots organization that looks out for mobile home owners’ rights.

The bill — still in committee — points out specific issues relating to mowing and edging the grass, as well as the trimming of trees and shrubbery. The park owner must give notice by mail and post the notice on the property. The park owner can move forward with ensuring the work is done within as few as three days from the mailing of the notice.

It also would give 30 days from the time of mailing before hiring workers to paint or pressure wash the mobile home. In all cases, the homeowner would then be billed for the work.

There are several problems with the bill that McMeans said needs to be addressed.

“It’s a mess,” she said. “Can you imagine the elderly climbing a ladder and trimming our live oaks and palm trees? Can you imagine being away on vacation and not receiving the notice that your home needs painting, only to return and find that it has been painted and you are receiving the bill for it?”

The two largest groups of mobile home owners in Manatee County are seniors on fixed incomes and those who leave for months at a time. The bill doesn’t outline any requirements that a homeowner received the notification.

And one complaint from mobile home residents is the abuse of power some park managers already display, raising fears that it will only embolden over-zealous personalities.

L.A. Tony Kovach is a manufactured home industry expert and publishes the trade publications MHLivingNews.com and MHProNews.com. Kovach said the bill can potentially leave the homeowners vulnerable to “overly aggressive” park operators.

“First, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep a community neat and clean,” Kovach said. “Mowing grass, trimming trees, etc. are both safety and appearance issues that protect the value of the homeowners and community alike. The question is, how is a valid goal best accomplished?”

Kovach said the proposed legislation isn’t necessarily the answer.

“It isn’t a good idea or a bad idea,” he said. “It’s entirely misplaced. They are looking at symptoms, not the cause. The underlying causes for the tension will likely remain unaddressed by any such bill. Until market forces are allowed back in, giving homeowners choices, and giving manufactured home communities a natural check on overreaching, there are going to be no quick or easy solutions. Education has to be part of the mix, because lack of understanding causes fear, frustration and can lead to bad legislation.”

New laws aren’t always the right solution, especially for the mobile home and manufactured home industries. Manufactured home communities are on the decline and more mobile home park communities are closing than opening.

Laws don’t always work as they are intended and, “The vicious cycle goes on,” Kovach said.

McMeans said the “mandatory arbitration for minor violations” within the proposed new law is another major issue. There is no definition for who would handle those claims and Sen. Hooper’s office did not return a request for clarification on the bill’s intent.

But the bill has surprising support.

“The thing that is really disturbing is the organization representing these mobile home owners is sponsoring this with the support of the Federation of Manufactured Home Owners of Florida,” McMeans said. “What do they get out of it? The gift of mandatory arbitration, which is what they want.”

McMeans said FMO is supposed to be looking out for their residents, “And they didn’t take any steps to make this public. Nobody is looking out for the people who aren’t my residents, so probably half of the mobile home owners are not even aware of this.”

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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