Cindy Newman, a resident at a Great Falls trailer court, told a Helena Legislative Committee on Thursday that most residents are older and have a steady income and cannot afford the drastic rent increases on the properties that have taken place in recent years.
“We are here today because our communities are threatened,” she said. “Real estate investors have recognized the vulnerability of homeowners who own homes but rent out the land. They’ve built a highly profitable business model that relies on our limited mobility to squeeze big profits out of middle-income residents.”
Newman spoke as a supporter of House Bill 889, which she called the “Bill of Rights” for RV occupants.
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The bill is officially titled Revise the Residential Mobile Home Lot Rental Act and was introduced by Rep. Jonathen Karlen, a Democrat representing the Frenchtown and Huson areas west of Missoula. Among other provisions, the bill would ban mobile home park owners from entering into monthly leases, instead requiring annual leases unless a monthly lease is mutually agreed.
The bill would also mean that if a landlord terminates a lease for non-payment, the tenant has 45 days to fix the problem, rather than the current seven-day period. The bill would also mean a landlord cannot require a resident or residents’ association to take out liability insurance to use public areas or facilities unless alcohol is being served. And it states that a landlord may not retaliate by changing an existing lease or refusing to renew it, by charging a fee, changing park rules, enforcing park rules in an inappropriate or inconsistent manner, or filing a lawsuit for eviction.
“This bill modernizes Montana’s RV rental law to ensure the rights of all parties are protected,” Karlen told the House Judiciary Committee. “This law is not a revision of the law and does not shift power in any way. It does not violate the rights of RV park owners.”
Instead, he said, it balances the rights of caravan owners and the private property rights of park owners.
“And I don’t think anyone is going to argue that they don’t have any[property rights],” Karlen continued. “They have private property rights. But it will ensure that renters, RV owners, have a basic set of rights and a transparent process can be ensured in their contractual agreements with the owner of the RV sites.”
He said the bill would strengthen protections against retaliation.
“We want to make sure that whether people try to start a resident-owned community (and) come down to participate in the political process, we want to make sure they don’t face retaliation for doing so,” said Karlen.
Newman, the trailer owner in Great Falls, said outside investors have created an affordability crisis for renters.
“Under this model, we residents suffer a lot and reach out in crises,” she said. “The land rents for our houses are increasing drastically. Under new company ownership, utilities become decoupled, maintenance deteriorates. We now live with fear and uncertainty.”
The bill was opposed by the Montana Landlords Association.
John Sinrud, the association’s president, condemned the fact that the bill expands on what qualifies as landlord retaliation.
“This is only related to the tenant on one side,” said Sinrud. “This bill basically allows a person to have a 1969 mobile home, sell it at the park, and not replace it.”
Sinrud said the bill does not allow a park owner “to maintain a beautiful park unless the individual owners maintain their own property.”
“If you have a person who has been given a seven-day notice of non-payment of rent, they have 45 days instead of seven to rectify it, so you extend problems and rights to a tenant and allow a landlord not to care order these through the courts,” he said.
Sinrud concluded, “It’s just not a good bill.”
“It’s a property rights issue,” he said. “Good tenants, good landlords make great RV sites. This is just a bill that allows bad actors to keep being bad actors.”
Rep. Jennifer Carlson, a Manhattan Republican, asked Karlen about a rule that a landlord can’t evict if a tenant doesn’t pay fees.
“Basically, a person could live there for 10 years and never pay their club dues and a landlord couldn’t do anything about that?” she asked. “And if you don’t pay your rent, can you go a month and a half before the landlord can even do anything about your eviction?”
“That’s a good question, I think that’s right,” Karlen said. He concluded by stating that he would work with anyone to add amendments.
The House Judiciary Committee took executive action Thursday, voting 12-7 to pass the bill.
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