Resolving landlord-tenant disputes at mobile home parks
For years, residents of Oregon's 1,000-plus mobile and manufactured home parks have complained they have little recourse when park owners violate state laws and regulations, because nobody enforces them.
But that could soon change.
Under a compromise headed to the Legislature that was worked out Friday by representatives of park owners and residents, both sides must agree to mandatory mediation of disputes, and residents could get the services of a specially trained lawyer to represent them.
The bill, endorsed by the Manufactured Housing Landlord/Tenant Coalition, gets its first hearing Monday in the state Senate, and figures to get a green light now that both sides have blessed it.
Manufactured and mobile owners say they are often at the mercy of their landlords, even though they own their own properties.
"We could never get park owners to come to mediation to talk about problems that we didn't think were addressed," said Nancy Inglehart, a tenant advocate who lives in Bell Acres Mobile Estates in Gresham.
To resolve such sticky disputes, the Legislature has relied since 1997 on the Manufactured Housing Landlord/Tenant Coalition to vet bills. In most sessions, lawmakers wouldn't even consider manufactured and mobile home landlord-tenant issues unless the coalition had reached a consensus position.
Ironically, the coalition disbanded in late 2016 when park owners refused to even talk about creating a dispute resolution process for manufactured and mobile home parks, which was tenants' top concern. That came after park owners insisted that lobbyist John DiLorenzo be named as co-facilitator of the coalition, to share duties with the longtime facilitator John VanLandingham, a Lane County Legal Aid attorney. Though VanLandingham is known as a tenant advocate, he had helped forge consensus among the two sides for many years, by working with landlord-tenant coalitions.
But VanLandingham was pessimistic about working with DiLorenzo, saying "has no intention of working collaboratively to address resident and landlord concerns."
Since then, the two Johns have worked out their differences and managed to come up with a consensus bill to bring to Salem next week.
"Oddly enough, DiLorenzo and I have worked fairly well together," VanLandingham said Monday.
DiLorenzo said he's "really proud" of the final package, and gives much of the credit to VanLandingham.
Back in 2016, the tenants wanted to pursue a solution modeled after Washington's, where mobile and manufacture home tenants can file complaints with the elected attorney general, who then addresses them. Park owners hated the idea.
But after the coalition was reformed in early 2017, under pressure from lawmakers, members started rethinking the idea. It turns out Washington's process is very expensive and time-consuming, VanLandingham said, and many of the complaints brought forward are not worthwhile.
Inglehart, who likes mediation so much she got trained to do it for East Metro Mediation in Gresham, convinced others on both sides that mandatory mediation might work out better.
"The power of mediation is someone's not making a decision for you," Inglehart said. "I think it's going to open up communication, if nothing else."
The Gresham program has a 90 percent success rate, she said.
Nobody on either side likes it when disputes wind up in litigation, DiLorenzo said. "It now gives a forum to resolve some of these disputes."
The mandatory mediation requirement applies to tenants when they have a dispute with other park residents, which is not uncommon.
Those are major headaches for landlords.
"This will allow a landlord to require two tenants to mediate with each-other," VanLandingham said.
Mediation can't resolve every complaint and sometimes lawyers are needed.
But many of the 62,000-plus households living in Oregon's manufactured and mobile home parks are senior citizens or on fixed-income. Many can not afford attorneys, Inglehart said.
Under the proposal, one fulltime lawyer will be trained in landlord-tenant law as it applies to manufactured and mobile home parks.
DiLorenzo isn't that worried. He figures the park owners who get sued will be the "bad apples" who are often ignorant of the laws and aren't part of the two trade groups he represents on the coalition. That should be healthy for the industry, he said, since most park owners want to do the right thing.
The mandatory mediation proposal is the core of Senate Bill 586, which gets its first hearing Monday before the Senate Housing Committee. The bill also will bring residents of Oregon's floating homes into the program for the first time, as they often have similar concerns as manufactured and mobile home owners, in that they own their properties but are part of larger moorages that make the rules and charge them rent. The bill also includes a few items sought by landlords, as part of a package deal.
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