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Lawmakers Want to Help Mobile Home Owners Facing Displacement, High Fees

A trailer park
Trailer Park in Middle Tennessee (Photo: ddatch54/Flickr) 

There are about 600 mobile home parks in Virginia. While they offer affordable homeownership, advocates say it comes with a cost: uninhabitable park conditions, and a high risk of displacement.  

Mobile homes are the only remaining non-subsidized form of affordable homeownership in the country. But a 2016 survey of mobile home parks in Central Virginia found that many of them are in disrepair.  

Christie Marra is the director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. She works with people facing eviction and those having trouble with landlords. 

“They didn't have street lights, they didn't have paved roads, they didn't have up-to-date electricity or sewer systems,” Marra said. 

She said the bulk of parks in the state are privately owned — and in recent years, they’ve been attracting big corporations. 

“Investors are interested in purchasing these parks to get rid of all the mobile homes and put up something more lucrative like townhomes or luxury condos or even luxury apartments,” Marra said. 

Marra added that a lot of these deals happen behind closed doors, leaving residents with little time to plan for moving, let alone with their homes. 

“Most of these mobile homes are not mobile, that’s a misnomer. It is very difficult to move a mobile home without damaging it,” Marra said. “Even if you can move a mobile home without damaging it or with only minimal damage, it can cost up to $10,000.”

For residents who could afford to successfully move them, Marra said they face slim chances of being accepted into new communities. According to the Manufactured Home Community Coalition of Virginia, over a quarter of them were built before the federal government imposed safety and building standards in 1976.

“You are in a home that you own. It is probably your only asset and you are, like most people living anywhere tied to your community of course. But you're also physically in a home that cannot be moved,” Marra said. 

Last week, residents at a mobile home park off the Jefferson Davis Highway near Varina were unwilling to go on the record to share their experiences. Many were uncomfortable talking about this issue. 

Marra said mobile homeowners are high-risk targets of exploitation by the new landlords. 

“When the new investor comes in and raises that lot rent from $400 to $500, you pay it because you can't just say, okay, I'm going to go rent an apartment down the road.”

Virginia lawmakers are trying to address some of these issues. One piece of legislation would require landlords to cover some of the mobile home relocation expenses. 

Another bill proposed by Del. Luke Torian (D-Prince William) would require landlords to give residents at least 90 days notice of their intent to sell a park. A Senate committee is slated to take-up Torian’s bill at a hearing on Wednesday. He says the measure aims to give residents at risk of losing their homes the opportunity to build autonomy within their community. 

“What we want to do is to give the residents, the mobile home owners, an opportunity to organize themselves so that they, if they want to, they can make an offer to the land owner to purchase the land themselves,” Torian said. 

Parks that are resident-owned tend to be safer and better cared for and could allow for the value of mobile homes to go up, according to Marra. 

“The closest resident-owned mobile home community to Virginia is up in Delaware and it's lovely. It's beautifully landscaped. All the homes are very well maintained,” Marra said. “It's a real testament to how much better a community can be when the homeowners own the land as well as the home and work collectively and have a sense of pride in their community.”

Right now mobile homes quickly lose their value, since owners in Virginia simply own their units and not the land parcels below them. 

“They get titled as vehicles, you get a title to a mobile home through DMV. As a result, you cannot get a traditional mortgage,” Marra said. 

Housing advocates say the work doesn’t stop there. The Virginia Poverty Law Center plans to make reforms to the Mobile Home Lot Rental Act and help draft legislation for the 2021 General Assembly session to tackle remaining issues.