West Acres Mobile Home Park residents in Steamboat Springs face 50% increase in lot rent
Park operators blame increased regulation required by Colorado's Mobile Home Park Act
Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Residents at West Acres Mobile Home Park on the west side of Steamboat Springs are facing a nearly 50% increase in lot rent that is set to take effect April 1.
A letter posted on the doors of homes in the park was two sentences. The first said rent was increasing and the second announced the base new rate of $1,032 a month for most of the park’s units.
For most residents currently paying closer to $690 a month, the increase translates to nearly $350 more each month for the ground they rent beneath the mobile homes they own.
“People that live in West Acres are the workforce of our community,” said Irene Avitia, who lives in the park and is part of a group of residents working to share information across the community of about 90 units. “They’re teachers, early childhood educators, nonprofit workers, subcontractors, hospitality workers.”
“We are part of the backbone of our community, of our economy,” Avitia continued.
Charley Williams, who is a minority owner and represents other owners of the park, said he has fought steep rent increases for years, and fought to keep this one lower as well.
“In the past I’ve been pretty tough on no, we are not increasing that much. This year I had to go along with it,” Williams said. “What I can’t do is not charge enough rent to cover our bills, or we are really going to be in trouble out there.”
Owners of the park had been contemplating a 100% increase, Williams said, which would have doubled lot rents. Even with the 50% increase, Williams said he believes the park is still near what other parks in Steamboat charge in lot rent. He speculated other parks in town could see similar lot rent increases as well.
Williams pointed to a number of higher costs for him that led to the rent increase, saying many of his bills have increased 20% to 30%. But the most significant changes, he said, comes from provisions of the Colorado Mobile Home Park Act that have been amended several times in recent years.
The updates to the law have been celebrated for giving residents in mobile home parks increased protections and were key to allowing residents at Whitehaven Mobile Home Park work with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority to buy that park last year, preventing a sale of the park to an unknown buyer and the uncertainty that goes with that.
But Williams said the law changes have added a regulatory burden on him and other mobile home park operators that has increased the costs to run the park.
“Basically, it has changed the rules and how I can enforce them, which has significantly increased the cost of operating the park,” Williams said.
Due to additional regulations, Williams said he needs to involve lawyers in park management more frequently. To write the cost increase letter itself, Williams said he spent about two hours with a lawyer at $265 an hour to ensure he was following the law.
The law requires 60 days notice before a rent increase — which has been provided in this case — but does not put a cap on rent increases. When introduced last year, the latest amendment would have added a rent increase cap, but that provision was removed when Gov. Jared Polis threatened to veto the bill.
“I’m not happy about this at all,” Williams said. “The tenants are getting screwed out there.”
The Mobile Home Park Act was largely unchanged since the 1970s until legislators made changes to the law in 2019, according to Aimee Bove, a Denver-based lawyer who owns Bove Law, which specializes in laws around mobile home parks and represents about 120 park owners across the state. Bove emphasized that she was speaking generally about the law and her comments were not representing any of her clients.
Bove said the Mobile Home Park Act has been amended in each of the last four legislative sessions.
“The Mobile Home Park Act now stands at approximately 56 pages,” Bove said. “The more regulations and the more rules there are, the more cumbersome it becomes to operate.”
She said as the law has been amended, it has added more enforcement capabilities. Now, many of her clients are getting subpoenas when a resident files a complaint, which often requires them to hire legal counsel.
There are also provisions in the law that Bove said seem contradictory. As an example, Bove pointed to trees within a mobile home park, which are often a “hot topic.”
“We have a law that says the tenant has a right to keep the trees they had a reasonable expectation of keeping at the time they signed the lease. Another provision says we are responsible to remove and upkeep all trees,” Bove said. “In the same day I get a complaint saying they removed a tree and at the same time I’m responding to a complaint that a tree is diseased. So what do we do there?”
Bove said she recommends to her park owners that they hire an arborist to come in each year and assess a park’s trees and have a policy about when a tree can and should be removed. This can lead park owners to spend tens of thousands, if not more, each year on trees, she said.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep trees safe, but when you add all these regulatory layers and you have an attorney you’re paying to handle this and everything else,” Bove said. “That is just one example.”
What Bove is advocating for is to stop amending the law and let her clients catch up.
“Tenants should be protected, and they are,” Bove said. “But we also need to make sure that the people who are providing physical space for people to live don’t get strangled out and crushed. So there’s got to be a balance.”
Williams said he hopes some of the regulation could be curtailed, which he said could result in lower lot rents.
“Everyone’s going to have their own opinions, but I think we all need to be talking and not just the state of Colorado trying to decide what’s best,” Williams said. “We need the tenants and the landlords in there talking.”
This story is from SteamboatPilot.com.
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