'Step in right direction'

Mobile-home bill extends rights of homeowners

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A state bill will give Steamboat Springs' mobile-home owners more rights than what the existing city ordinance provides.

Earlier this month, Gov. Bill Owens signed a bill that would extend mobilehome leases from a month-to-month basis to six-month or year-long leases. It also gives mobile-home owners the right to form homeowners associations and creates steps for landlords to follow if they decide to sell their parks or convert them to new uses.

Bobbi Hodge, a local affordable housing advocate and Dream Island Mobile Home Community resident, said the rights of mobile-home owners are increasing.

"The owners had all the rights, and the renters had none. You could have gotten kicked out for basically nothing," Hodge said. "Now, we have a little bit more protection."

Hodge has become a familiar face at City Council meetings, lobbying for the rights of mobile-home owners. More than a year ago, she went before the state House's Local Government Committee to promote a bill that would give homeowners the right of first refusal if a landowner decided to sell mobile home property.

It was among three state legislative bills on mobile-home parks that failed in the 2004 session. Hodge said that her job kept her too busy and that she couldn't help lobby for this round of legislation. But she was glad to hear that the bill passed, even if it was about half of what was sought in 2004.

"It is a step in the right direction, even if it is not a big step," Hodge said.

The rights of mobile-home owners and the fear that the land they live on could get converted into other uses have been growing issues for the city in the past few years.

In 2003, residents of West--land Park, a mobile-home park on the north bank of the Yampa River in downtown Steamboat, were told they would have to leave. The 39 homes would be displaced by 50 new townhomes and 7,000 feet of commercial space between Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street and Third and Fourth streets.

Yampa Valley Regional Affordable Housing Director Elizabeth Black said one of the most heartening parts of the state bill is its acknowledgement that mobile homes are important to affordable housing.

The bill encourages local governments to allow and protect mobile-home parks and to enact plans to increase the number of mobile-home parks. The bill also encourages local governments to provide incentives to mobile-home park owners to attract additional mobile-home parks and to increase the viability of the current parks.

"I think that is a big policy statement," Black said.

Although the bill was des--igned to meet Front Range problems, Black said it would have an effect statewide.

"Hundreds of people and families live in mobile-home parks (in Steamboat)," she said. "They are working families that live here and contribute to the economy. It is something my board is quite concerned about."

The most significant effect the bill will have on local mobile-home owners is allowing for long-term leases. Right now, most mobile-home parks in Steamboat are on month-to-month leases, Hodge said.

The bill stipulates that upon written request by a mobile-home owner, a landlord must allow the owner to have a one-year lease if he or she has been current in all payments and has not violated the rental agreement.

Along with a right to form a homeowners association, the bill stipulates the right of mobile-home owners to form a cooperative to purchase or finance the mobile-home park.

"This is a whole new world for mobile-home parks," Black said.

The bill also requires mobile-home park owners to provide written notice to all tenants if they intend to change the land use or sell the park. The notice has to be given 10 days before the closing date of the sale or trade.

If the mobile-home park has a change of use, the tenants must receive written notice at least 180 days before the change will occur.

If passed a few years ago, the bill would have done little to prevent the situation mobile-home owners in Westland faced. It does not offer the right of first refusal or stop the conversion of mobile-home parks.

The city's ordinance does have more guidelines than the state bill for mobile-home park owners to follow if they are converting the use of the park.

The city adopted its ordinance in 2001, shortly after residents in the Trailer Haven mobile home park were moved out so the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association could build tennis courts.

Under the city's existing mobile-home ordinance, park owners must present a conversion impact report to the city if they intend to redevelop the land. The owners also need to get a conditional-use permit to change the use of a mobile-home park.

The ordinance does not require park owners to find or pay for new land for the displaced mobile-home owners. Instead, the ordinance asks developers to make their "best efforts" when mobile-home owners are being displaced. Developers are asked to give mobile-home owners a list of the available mobile-home sites within a 50-mile radius.

City Council President Paul Strong said he would like to see mobile-home owners also have the right of first refusal, which would give them the first chance to purchase the land if it was for sale.

"It gives the tenants some opportunity to buy the land if they want," Strong said.

Strong said the council does not have unity when it comes to how much protection can be provided when mobile homes are converted.

"Some think we can do a lot more than others," Strong said. "It is a private-property concern with the (property owners') right to do with the property as they see fit."

But he points to the success of the Hilltop Homes park, where mobile-home owners were able to buy their own lots in 2003.

"I think it is a good model for what could happen," he said.

When mobile home parks are converted to other uses, it does mean a loss of affordable housing, Black said.

"We don't have enough product to relocate everyone," she said. "We don't have that much to offer right now."

The affordable housing authority is working to relocate those in the Westland Park.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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