Matt Chapman is a resident of Midwest Country Estates park in Dallas County and co-chair of the Iowa Manufactured Home Residents’ Network.
On a party-line vote this week, the Iowa Senate approved House file 2562, a bill on manufactured housing parks that the Iowa House passed earlier this month. The bill is headed to Governor Kim Reynolds' desk, and she is expected to sign it. UPDATE: The governor signed the bill on May 17.
At iowafairhousing.com you will see the "residents' bill of rights" we wrote in 2019. The site has more details, but the bullet points are as follows –
- Rent protection from gouging
- Good cause eviction standards
- Fair fees
- Fair legal leases
- Resident rights if park is for sale
Unfortunately, House File 2562 would enforce none of those rights.
The bill originally had a provision to strike our property tax, but that language was removed. It would have saved the average manufactured housing homeowner $200 a year. Considering our rent has doubled in two years at most Havenpark held properties, that’s not any real relief.
It's important to note that no one is against out of state firms investing in Iowa, if they are creating jobs and contributing to the economy. But it's disingenuous for anyone to say it benefits Iowa for private equity to buy up mobile home parks.
These firms exploit Iowans by extracting wealth from veterans, single moms, disabled and elderly people who live on a fixed income. That money goes elsewhere, such as Utah, where Havenpark is incorporated.
By the way, Havenpark does not invest in Utah parks, because that state has enacted protections for manufactured housing owners.
What has been happening?
From 1969 until 2019 our community's rent had increased slowly, reaching between $290 and $320 as a base monthly rate. It was a great run for affordable housing. The park's owners were paying about $90,000 in taxes a year. Midwest County Estates has 320 lots, so the owners were collecting around $100,000 a month. It was plenty for them, and most of us had the money to replace a water heater or a washer when we needed.
Unlike an apartment or rental homes, manufactured housing owners must do whatever maintenance our homes need. We just rent a small patch of dirt our homes sit on.
Then private equity firms started moving in. One Friday afternoon in April 2019, we all found a notice on our door that the rent was going up to $500 in 60 days. Folks were angry and scared. How could they do this?
When you run a private equity firm like Havenpark, you have funds to do research. They researched state laws and started gobbling up the parks in states that offer no protection to manufactured housing owners. They also know we can’t just pick up and move. We must pay whatever cost they set for rent and fees. And fun fact: they are acquiring these parks with funding from Fannie Mae arm Bellwether. (See this mortgage document from 2019.)
One more fun fact about Havenpark's credibility: the original notice of rent increases was void because we weren’t notified correctly in April 2019. They had to post new notices in May 2019. They then told the Des Moines Register they decided to give tenants an extra 30 days. No, they couldn’t get the rent raised because of a mistake.
Why did the owners sell?
When a firm offers you three times what your land is worth, most will sell. Our community sold for $17,400,000 for 63 acres in 2019. The estimates I have heard from the city is its worth around $6,000,000 to $8,000,000.
But when you double the base rent and bring in $200,000 a month, it’s no problem. The owners get a great deal. The private equity firm gets a cash cow because we are trapped in our homes with nothing to do but suck it up and pay or walk away.
House File 2562 does nothing to address this situation. It appears that the political action committee representing mobile home park owners has pulled strings with leadership at the statehouse to benefit out of state companies.
What’s good in the bill?
Republican State Senator Amy Sinclair floor managed the bill on April 19 and introduced an amendment related to utilities. During the debate, Democratic State Senator Zach Wahls spoke about a few good points in the legislation.
- Raising the notice for rent increases from 60 to 90 days.
- Increasing homeowners’ protection from retaliation from six months to twelve
- Landlords shall provide water and utilities to residents
- Prohibiting landlords from requiring homeowners to modify their home in a way that would make it immobile.
- All sales agreement must be in writing and the landlord must provide a title when payments are complete.
The fact that these issues needed to be put in law is as shocking, and shows that statehouse leadership has already dropped the ball on this issue. Out of state entities now own 50 percent of Iowa's mobile home parks. That is why homeowners are now being exploited.
Number 5 is a good example of how there is no accountability in Iowa code for abusive actions.
I had a neighbor who was buying a house on contract from an investor/handyman. When they paid the contract off, he told them they still owed $5,000. They realized this man would continue to demand money from them, since they had no written contract. So they moved without any ability to legally remedy the situation.
Should they have had a contract? Sure. But this is Iowa. “We like to say we’re Iowa Nice,” Democratic State Senator Bill Dotzler said during the Senate debate. "But we are now rated as the fourth rudest state in the nation."
What’s bad in the bill?
Wahls highlighted several problems with the bill:
- Tenants have less time to cure lease violations, since utilities will now be defined as rent (which will cause some to fall behind much faster).
- The bill also gives the landlord a loophole on utility cost increase notifications. If a landlord gets notice of a utility cost increase that’s less than 90 days before the raise in rate is enacted, the landlord doesn’t have to notify the tenant.
- The bill eliminates the ability of homeowners to seek a defense against evictions if a court date is not scheduled before the eviction date. (Due process anyone?)
- To make the above change in the law worse, now weekends and holidays count as business days when an eviction notice is mailed
- Landlords can obtain a court order If a home is considered abandoned, most commonly because of an inability to pay rent, and the previous owner must file a notice to bid on their home and/or belongings at auction even if the back rent is paid. If they don’t file a notice they can’t bid as their life is being auctioned away. Why? Retaliation? Cruelty?
Amendments to improve the bill failed
Other than the utility amendment mentioned above, legislators proposed other amendments that would conform with our resident’s bill of rights.
Wahls offered S5134 first, which included the following:
- Require landlords to provide one-year leases that are renewed yearly. The current code lets landlords place a month-to-month lease after the initial year is over. The problem here is that landlords can evict folks for no cause at any time since the month-to-month lease is really no lease at all.
- Good cause eviction to break the lease. If we had one-year leases, then this would need to be addressed. Right now, a mobile home landlord can evict for no cause. This would ensure that there had to be an actual breach of contract for eviction.
- 180 day rent increase notice, up from the previous 90.
An example of the second point happened to one of the community members in our park. She had purchased her home for $62,000 and two years later had to sell it to another park for $22,000. It was the only way to sell it before the park could claim it, due to her being evicted for no fault.
Wahls said that in 2019, the Senate had unanimous consent for the same language as his amendment. “We had the courage” to approve those provisions because “we saw a shocking display of greed” from investors like Havenpark and Impact Communities (formerly RV Horizons).
But when Wahls moved to have the amendment voted on, Sinclair asked for a ruling on whether it was germane to the bill. That allowed Senate President Jake Chapman, the chamber's second-ranking Republican, to decide whether the amendment is about the spirit or has a direct connection to the bill.
Chapman ruled it not germane—surprising, since he had voted in favor of the same language in 2019. Remember, this is a mobile home bill being amended. How is an amendment on a mobile home park regulations not germane to a bill about mobile homes? You can make what you will from that.
Incidentally, then Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer blocked that 2019 bill in the lower chamber after it passed the Senate unanimously.
Next, Wahls offered S5137, containing the following:
- Just cause evictions that conform with the Iowa Code 562.A that address rental apartments and rental homes. (The Iowa code on mobile homes are 562.B)
- The Attorney General is empowered to enforce consumer fraud laws in manufactured housing parks. (Another astounding fact: under current Iowa law, the attorney general cannot enforce consumer fraud in such parks.)
- Rent increases must be tied to the consumer price index, and any increase over the CPI must be explained to the homeowners.
Wahls reminded the Senate that a similar bill, Senate File 2238, was introduced in 2020 and had support from fifteen Republicans and fifteen Democrats.
(Chapman chaired the committee that was assigned to consider that bill in 2020. He refused to move it forward and thus blocked the legislation, even though it had 30 bipartisan sponsors in the 50-seat Senate.)
Wahls moved to have the amendment voted on, and again, Sinclair asked for a ruling on germaneness. That meant Chapman could decide, and he declared the amendment not germane. Once again, this was an amendment about mobile homes, offered during debate on a mobile home bill.
Democratic State Senator Herman Quirmbach then brought two amendments forward, describing them as “a more targeted approach”.
S-5136 would require that a 1-year lease shall be in place unless tenant and landlord agree in writing to a longer or shorter lease.
The Republican majority voted that amendment down.
S-5135 stated that if a landlord received notice of a utility increase in under 90 days, the landlord would have to inform the tenant within five days of the landlord being notified.
Again, the majority party rejected the amendment.
On final passage, every Senate Republican voted for House File 2562, and every Democrat voted against it.
To sum up the last four chances to address this issue: the leadership at the statehouse gets an F.
House Speaker Upmeyer refused to bring a manufactured housing bill to the floor in 2019. Chapman refused to give a related bill a committee meeting in 2020. House Speaker Pat Grassley refused to bring a bill to the floor in 2021 and had a strike all amendment added to the legislation.
Now this farce, which does nothing to protect Iowans from predators from other states. You can see the fix is in. You can be sure the donors are pleased.
It looks like nothing but kabuki theater, playing back and forth between chambers.
Iowa Senate Democrats emphasized in an April 21 news release that Chapman has "on three separate occasions, played the key role in sabotaging years of bipartisan work to improve the rights and living conditions of Iowans living in manufactured or mobile homes." First, he refused to hold a subcommittee meeting on a bipartisan bill. This week, he made sure two amendments would not come to a vote on the Senate floor.
That is three times the senator has stood with predatory private equity and stopped legislation that would go a long way to fix the mess Iowa mobile home residents are in.
One more thing: Chapman is seeking re-election in the new Senate district 14. It contains Waukee, where Midwest Country Estates is located.
All we can do is stay organized and keep fighting for vulnerable Iowans. It really is shameful that investors can come to Iowa and exploit 80-year-old widowers. They have lived here for much of their lives, just to have Havenpark extract half of their Social Security to fund the high lifestyle only a few achieve. No wonder Republicans voted down giving the Iowa Attorney General's office the ability to investigate fraud.
It's been three years and four bites at this apple under a Republican trifecta at the capitol. They are complicit in this ongoing problem and have made things worse.
The only way we will get anything meaningful done to protect mobile home owners will be if Democrats can win control of the Iowa House or Senate, or a Democrat is elected governor. One-party control in Iowa is helping in-state and out of state entities reap record profits. At the same time, the majority party throws vulnerable and working Iowans to the wolves.
Further reading and actions
Please visit our website at iowafairhousing.com and feel free to sign the petition and read more on this issue that is Iowa specific.
Manufactured Housing Action ( mhaction.org ) have a great report on how private equity acquires parks and exploits residents across the country. It’s called Displacement Incorporated and has stories from Iowa, along with other states.
Show up when you get a chance. Call or email your representatives, senators and Governor Kim Reynoolds and ask why this is happening even if the session is over. The bill hasn't been signed yet and it's an election year. Call or email Reynolds and ask her not to let House File 2562 be added to the Iowa code.
Have a picnic in your park and get organized. Create a residents' committee in your park to fight against exploitation.
Thank you to all of you residents and allies out there. Let’s be sure we vote for politicians who honestly want to make our homes secure.
Editor's note: House members approved this bill on April 5 on a mostly party-line vote of 60 to 37. Democratic State Representative Kenan Judge, who represents the Waukee area, and fellow Democrat Lindsay James of Dubuque joined Republicans to vote yes; Republican Jeff Shipley voted no.
Appendix: Statement from the Iowa Manufactured Home Residents’ Network
Mobile Home Residents Say HF 2562 is “Totally Unacceptable”
We don’t have another year to wait for protections
For over three years, Iowans who own manufactured homes have expressed growing concern about mistreatment from out-of-state park owners, particularly private equity firms and large corporations that continue to purchase Iowa parks. We have reported scores of abuses and deteriorating park conditions ranging from illegal lease provisions, outrageous repeated lot rent increases, no-cause evictions of long-time residents, utility overcharges, faulty water meters, drastic new fees (for fewer services), and maintenance failures.
For the past three years, bi-partisan groups of legislators worked on bills proposing some limited but positive improvements. These bills were moved through legislative committees, but not passed. We are deeply disappointed and angered that this year, rather than making a good faith effort to finally strengthen resident protections, Republican legislators have completely replaced proposals from prior years with new bill language that would make conditions worse, not better, for residents.
Iowans continue to ask for better protections and instead, this week Republican leaders are advancing a bill that offers more rights to out-of-state landlords.
Instead of increasing protections, this bill would leave residents more vulnerable than ever, shrinking the time residents are allowed to respond to certain types of eviction notices and giving owners more options and longer timelines for issuing eviction notices.
We urged leadership members to show the courage to turn this bill around and to stand up to the park owners’ lobby and the out-of-state corporate funders that continue to stand in the way of essential protections Iowa manufactured homeowners need and deserve.
Legislators have heard our voices and repeatedly indicated to us they too understand that Iowa Code Chapter 562B, covering manufactured homes, has over decades become severely imbalanced in favor of park owners over residents. It’s long past time to protect Iowans and affordable housing.
Top image: Arletta Swain, a resident of Midwest Country Estates since 1969, stands in front of trees she planted near her home. Photo by Matt Chapman, published with permission.