70 mobile home parks in Colorado can’t raise rent due to new laws designed to protect residents

Seventy mobile home parks across Colorado cannot raise rent on residents due to beefed-up protections that went into effect this fall, part of the state’s growing efforts to protect tens of thousands of low-income individuals in one of America’s last bastions of affordable housing.

That number is spotlighted in an annual report released this month by Colorado’s Mobile Home Park Oversight Program, which launched three years ago.

The state during the past year made progress on investigating resident complaints after extensive backlogs plagued the division during its first year of operation, the report showed, while new legislation has given regulators more avenues to compel park owners and managers into following the law.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of Colorado’s 731 parks are becoming resident-owned cooperatives after persistent allegations last year that park owners were skirting the state’s nascent regulations designed to give mobile home owners a fighting chance to own their own parks.

“We’re optimistic that some of the new tools that were part of HB22-1287 will allow us to act more quickly when needed to help resolve complaints,” said Christina Postolowski, who runs the state’s Mobile Home Park Oversight Program, in an interview.

A pair of bills signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in May established a fund to help residents buy their parks and empowered the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to go after people who flout housing laws.

The new laws, which went into effect Oct. 1, also prohibit landlords from increasing lot rent if the mobile home park isn’t registered with the state, has any unpaid penalties or has not fully complied with orders issued by the division.

Seventy parks fit that criteria as of Jan. 16, state data shows, including 34 parks that have never registered with the state. Other parks “likely” barred from raising rent have unpaid penalties or expired registrations. (The division uses the word “likely” to make clear that this list is different than a written determination of violation, and the fact that documentation could have been submitted before the agency could update its list).

It’s hard to know what other laws these unregistered parks might be ignoring, Postolowski said, but, “I’d be concerned that notice of homeowner and resident rights that the Department of Local Affairs provides to owners to post and share with residents may also not be posted or shared.”

The state is also using its newfound enforcement abilities to compel park owners to follow the law. The division has issued five cease-and-desist orders since Oct. 1, Postolowski said. In four of the cases, the landlord complied and the issue went away.

In one case this month, though, the state sought and received a temporary restraining order from a Summit County judge after residents at a mobile home park in Breckenridge reported no running water a month after pipes burst.

David Valleau has seen firsthand how the government’s enforcement mechanisms have changed the game for his clients. The housing attorney with the Colorado Poverty Law Project routinely represents mobile home residents in their fights against management and ownership — but his organization normally stands alone in the battle.

But in one recent case, a park owner recanted an aggressive rent hike after the Department of Local Affairs got involved.

“This does make my job easier,” Valleau said. “You’ve got the power of the state and the attorney general enforcing the law.”

Water issues are one of the most common complaints from park residents, the report detailed, along with tree and road maintenance. Mobile home owners previously told The Denver Post that they often felt they had little recourse during these incidents. Many waited more than a year for state regulators to tackle their cases.

Two years in, the division has made headway into complaints filed under the state’s dispute resolution and enforcement program, though it’s still working through a laundry list of allegations.

Regulators received 173 complaints between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, and have resolved 55 of those — or 31%. The program’s annual report last year showed the state had dealt with just 23% of cases during the first year of the dispute resolution apparatus.

The state also closed 120 complaints — encompassing 403 alleged law violations — from 2020 to 2021 over the past year.

Still, the division has a long way to go.

Despite outreach efforts, 71% of mobile home owners have not heard of the Mobile Home Oversight Program, a 2022 survey included in the report found.

Postolowski has acknowledged that she didn’t have the staff to keep up with both registrations and complaints — though the state is slowly ramping up.

The division has four full-time complaint staff — though one position is vacant — and two positions for park registration. The state recently hired a new park sale administrator to focus on education, complaints and enforcement related to sales.

Now Postolowski is looking for two compliance investigators to monitor landlords.

“We’re optimistic that these positions will spend more time on the ground talking to folks and communities and are going to help us improve awareness of the program,” she said.

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