A group of mobile home park residents nervous about a potential rent increase and dissatisfied with conditions in their community spent Tuesday night learning about a new state law that gives them some protection in dealing with park owners.
About 35 residents of Greenbriar Village in East Allen Twp., Northampton Co., heard State Rep. Robert Freeman, D-136th, explain the bill he spent six years turning into a law, and how they could use it.
Freeman also promised he would continue to be an advocate for owners of "manufactured homes," noting that he has asked for a meeting with new state Attorney General Kathleen Kane to discuss their concerns and enforcing the new law.
Freeman said he's always viewed the attorney general as a "guardian," "a watchdog agency" and "an ombudsman" for the owners of manufactured homes.
"It's time for [the attorney general's] office to step up to the plate," Freeman said. "Previous attorneys general have really turned blind eye, including Governor [Tom] Corbett."
Freeman said Act 156 took effect in December, and now, if a mobile home park is sold, homeowners must be notified within 30 days and be told who the new owner is.
If the new owner plans to close the mobile home park and use it for a commercial or industrial enterprise, homeowners must be given 60 days notice and up to 180 days to vacate, Freeman said.
The law also gives a homeowner the right to end a lease without penalty, and requires the new park owner to pay $4,000 in relocation expenses for single units and $6,000 for multi-sectional units, said Freeman, adding that those numbers are tied to the Consumer Price Index.
But the feature of Act 156 that Freeman came back to several times was a provision requiring a park owner to seriously consider selling the park to its residents, if residents on 25 percent or more of the lots in the park make an offer.
Freeman said he believed by purchasing the park, homeowners could function as a condo association, which has more clearly defined legal rights. "That's the ultimate protection," Freeman added.
Greenbriar resident Fred Crouthamel wanted to know how others have done it.
William Shuey, a staff attorney for Regional Housing Legal Services who is advising Greenbriar's residents, said the state of New Hampshire already has more than 100 resident-owned manufactured home communities.
But because Act 156 only took effect on Dec. 23, 2012, "no one has tried to own their own community in Pennsylvania," Shuey noted.
Randy Schaffer, president of the Greenbriar Village Homeowners Association, read written questions from residents to Freeman, including one asking about further safeguards against park owners who raise rent dramatically. The home owners feel vulnerable because they do not own the land they live on, and cannot easily move.)
Freeman said he would favor a "neutral party," like the Public Utility Commission, to evaluate rent increases that go beyond the Consumer Price Index. "But it will be a long, hard-fought battle to get it enacted into law," he predicted.
Tom Blackton, the association's vice president, told Freeman the owners of manufactured homes "are second-class citizens" because they have to pay real estate taxes, even though their homes are titled through PennDOT. "We can't get a mortgage," he said. "We have to get a loan at a much higher interest rate."
Freeman admitted that a manufactured home "is neither fish nor fowl" in Pennsylvania.
He said a proposal by Gettysburg area State Rep. Dan Moul to allow assessors to consider a manufactured home's Blue Book value in calculating an owner's tax bill "would be a major step forward."