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Do new mobile home regs go too far?
On March 30, as part of his State of the City address, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola spoke of “the mobile home blight which exists on several streets in Southwest Little Rock.” The next day, the city Board of Directors passed an ordinance that would help, in the mayor's words, “eradicate” that blight by imposing code enforcement standards on mobile homes.
The decision has caused some concern amongst mobile home park owners and residents who fear they will now be subject to rules that go beyond those imposed on site-built homes, duplexes and apartments.
J.D. Harper, executive director of the Arkansas Manufactured Housing Association, says the city has granted itself some fairly broad authority.
“The habitability standards that I found in the city code prior to this ordinance are different than what they adopted here,” Harper says. “We're going to have to see if the city follows through on its pledge. They said their intention was not to be heavy-handed on this issue, but to assure that the units that are out there are habitable.”
State law says that a municipality may not impose standards on mobile homes that do not exist for other types of single-family dwellings. The new ordinance outlines violations not specifically detailed in the city's housing code such as: failure to ground metal objects; unsupported, loose or leaky fuel supply; heating equipment without adequate clearance from combustible materials and specific plumbing violations. The ordinance also prohibits “dampness of rooms” and “general dilapidation or improper maintenance,” terms that are not clearly defined.
“The difference is the penalty. What I get from it is that a minor issue dealing with something as small as an inoperable light fixture or an inoperable toilet could lead to that unit being deemed a nuisance, or uninhabitable. The ultimate punishment would be to require that the unit be removed from the city,” Harper says.
It's fear of that punishment that has some residents worried. David, who preferred we did not use his last name for fear of retribution, has lived in a mobile home park in southwest Little Rock for nearly 25 years. He's worried that a minor infraction could cost him his home.
“I'm unemployed and I can't afford to live anywhere else. For me, this is low-income housing. Plus, I like living here,” he says.
According to Harper there are basically two types of mobile home parks — parks in which the manager owns both the land and the homes and rents them out to tenants, and parks in which the manager owns the land and the homes are owned by the occupants, who rent the land only. He says this ordinance is likely targeted at the former, parks that become run-down when managers don't provide basic up-keep or services on rental units.
Linda Koubek owns five mobile home parks in southwest Little Rock. In each park, the tenants own their own homes. She's afraid the ordinance will hurt poor families.
“These parks are about 90 percent Hispanic. They're good hard-working people, but they oftentimes can't afford to live anywhere else,” Koubek says. “The parks are already under supervision. Every park has to have their trash picked up and have the grass cut and all that. It's already regulated. This is imposing on people. They're wanting to push people out of mobile home parks, but where will they go?”
Little Rock City Attorney Thomas Carpenter says that is not the city's intention.
“This isn't out to get anyone. This is out to get unsanitary housing,” Carpenter says. “And particularly to make sure there's sanitary housing for the people who can least afford to take care of themselves and are often taken advantage of. If you're talking about a mobile home that's on a pad someplace that has adequate water and adequate electricity and adequate gas and adequate plumbing, then they have nothing to be afraid of.”
Harper questions the need for a new ordinance.
“Why didn't they just amend the housing code to include the word ‘manufactured home,' and put everything on the same level instead of creating a whole separate section of ordinance that only applies to a home that's built in a factory?” he says. “That's what I don't understand. If this is where they really wanted to end up, there's a much simpler way to do it.”
Harper says ultimately it's a wait-and-see situation.
“Nobody's called me saying the Gestapo is outside my manufactured home, or these guys are kicking doors in or anything like that. I haven't heard any of that,” he says. “I would assume that the city is going to proceed with caution instead of jumping out there and making an example of somebody, but that's going to happen. They're going to have a park or something that they get a complaint on and they'll say, ‘We've got to do something here.' We'll just have to see how this is handled.”
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