CT Senate passes bill to protect mobile home occupants

As she prepared for retirement, Carol Sembersky did whatever she could think of to pay off her debts — she paid off and blocked her credit cards, then she and her husband sold their house so they could buy a prefab right away.

They wanted to lower home ownership costs, downsize and buy a one-story house so they could age in place for as long as possible, she said in an interview. But in recent years, the fees they pay for the property their mobile home sits on have increased, eating away at their fixed monthly income.

After about three hours of debate last week, the Senate passed a bill designed to provide relief to residents of RV parks like Sembersky, who are facing rising rents. It requires the mobile home park owner to notify residents if they plan to sell, lease or transfer the property to someone else.

Senate Bill 988 would also give mobile home residents the option to purchase their parks before the land is sold. At least half of park residents must register, and owners must give them 45 days to take advantage of other offerings.

They own their CT homes, but not the land: RV owners are demanding protection

Current law gives residents the right of first refusal of the park if the park owner or new buyers plan to close the park. This bill would expand that right to sales if the park doesn’t close.

Several other states, including Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, have similar laws.

Sembersky said her rent in Plymouth has gone up every year for the past few years — by $12 a month, then by $24 and most recently by $39. She pays $578 a month, and on a fixed income, any increase could jeopardize older people’s ability to pay other bills, she said in an interview earlier this week.

“What will it be like in 2024?” She said of her land lease. “They can increase it as much as they want.”

Often prefab or mobile home occupants buy the actual building but rent the lot on which it sits. Once the house is on the property, it is very difficult to move.

In recent years, investors across the country have increasingly bought up RV parks, raising rents and evicting those who can’t pay.

“I’ve heard so many horrible stories from people across the state about rising interest rates – people leaving New York to move to Connecticut and the rising real estate prices,” Senator Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, said during Wednesday’s debate .

Moore, co-chair of the housing committee, said she had heard from residents and visited a Milford park to learn more about the problem. She added that lawmakers have been working with both buyers and sellers of mobile home parks to work out the details of the bill.

“I will fight hard for what is right and I believe this agreement is mutual,” Moore said.

Originally, RV owners were among those calling for a statewide cap on annual rent increases, which Sembersky says would be more helpful than buying the property. The measure was removed from the housing priority law of the Senate Democrats and no longer considered in the committee procedure.

Sen. Rob, Senior Member of the Housing Committee. Sampson, R-Wolcott, opposed the bill during debate this week. He tabled numerous amendments, none of which were adopted.

He argued the legislation was an excess and violated the rights of mobile park owners. Throughout the legislative process, Sampson has often advocated minimizing the role of government in business transactions and discussed the merits of the free market.

Advocates of increased government protections for renters have said the government has a long history of consumer protection, including in the housing market, and that increased action to regulate housing is part of that role.

“This bill tells the owner of those properties that they don’t have the right to dispose of those properties as they please,” Sampson said.

He added that the bill is divisive and puts a “target audience on the back of a specific group of people,” i.e. the RV owner.

There are already a handful of resident-operated mobile home parks throughout Connecticut. Albert Hricz, a Milford mobile home resident who lives in one, says it comforts him to know the price won’t suddenly go up unless residents do something about it.

When he was looking for a home after his marriage, an RV seemed like an affordable option. Also, he argued, he could buy it brand new for a cheaper price. He’s lived in one for decades. The residents bought the park in which it is located and founded a residents’ association years ago.

As a result, there is less need to make a profit on the property, according to the park’s website. And Hricz isn’t worried about rent increases or selling the park for another purpose.

“We don’t have to worry that something like this will ever happen again,” he said in an interview.

Ginny Monk is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (https://ctmirror.org/). Copyright 2023 © The Connecticut Mirror.