Landless homeowners

I work in Delaware. Manufactured homes provide the majority of housing for low- and moderate-income households in lower Delaware. Below the canal (the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal that slices across the northernmost New Castle County) Delaware remains largely rural. In such areas, apartments and rental properties are scarce. I live in an apartment. If I lived in lower Delaware, I might well live in a trailer.

People who live in manufactured homes are in a vulnerable situation. They own their home, but not the land it sits on, for which they must pay rent. Just like apartment dwellers, they have leases and those leases can include rent increases when they are up for renewal. But here apartment dwellers are at an advantage — we are far more mobile, more able to move elsewhere if confronted with an unreasonable increase in rent.

That fact is at the center of an ongoing dispute in Delaware between the residents of seven manufactured home parks and their landlord, Manufactured Home Communities, Inc., whose latest rent increase is up to 70 percent.

The residents are over a barrel — they can't afford a 70-percent rent increase. They can't afford to move their homes elsewhere. Many of these residents are retired and on fixed incomes (see the photos accompanying earlier articles here and here).

Part of what's going on here is that rural areas aren't immune from the same kind of gentrification that displaces urban renters. The housing bubble causing beach-area prices to soar in lower Delaware is rippling further and further inland and MHC seems to want a piece of that action.

The rent increases ended up going all the way to Delaware's Supreme Court, where the landlord won the right to increase rents:

Hundreds of residents of six Delaware mobile home parks must decide whether to move or find some way to pay rent increases of up to 70 percent after losing a court battle to stop a mobile home park owner from renewing leases without rent increase caps.

In a case brought by the Attorney General's Office, the Supreme Court rejected arguments that Delaware law prevented renewals that did not abide by clauses limiting annual rent increases. Manufactured Home Communities Inc. now is free to institute sharp increases for lots in six parks in Sussex County. The decision could affect as many as 700 tenants.

The court's decision seems to me to be based on the flawed assumption that the relationship between landlord and tenant at a trailer park is the same as that between a landlord and tenant in an apartment building. This disregards the extreme difference in mobility. It seems to be assuming lots of market options on behalf of residents who have no such options. They cannot afford to stay. They cannot afford to move. The landlord (just think about that word) holds all the cards and has no reason not to milk the tenants dry.

Solutions?

  • Dwight

    When I read things such as this I am reminded that revolutions such as occurred in Russia, China, Cuba, etc. were brought about by years of the ruling classes abusing the lower classes. We can argue about whether these revolutions ever brought about better conditions, but we cannot with intellectual integrity argue that life under the Tsar or the emperor or whoever was any better than life under the Socialist dictators.
    As the gap between rich and poor grows greater in this country, it would be good for us to realize that revolutions are kept in check only by the degree to which the “lower classes” feel that they are actual participants in the policital, judicial and economic systems of their society. The great civil rights battle that needs to be fought now is not for gay rights – as important as that is – but for economic justice within the USA. If we fail in this, we will ultimately fail as a nation.
    Dwight

  • Christian Coalition of Alabama

    These people wouldn’t be in this mess if it wasn’t for their own poor decision making. There’s no problem here that a better work ethic and more financial displicine wouldn’t solve. That’s what Jesus would say, isn’t it? Our Jesus says that, at any rate.
    CCoA

  • ann marie nash

    My parents are considering moving into one of those manufactured home parks that you wrote about and I am very concerned about the land rent issue. The price of the home is so affordable that the whole prospect is very alluring. Thank you aor your commentary.
    Ann-Marie Nash

  • ann marie nash

    My parents are considering moving into one of those manufactured home parks that you wrote about and I am very concerned about the land rent issue. The price of the home is so affordable that the whole prospect is very alluring. Thank you aor your commentary.
    Ann-Marie Nash

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