Legislation gives mobile-home owners protection if land is sold

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2010

For years, Amy Lamke's answer to her affordable housing dilemma was bouncing with her daughter, Katlin, from one place to another, sharing space with strangers whom she met through classified ads.

But when she discovered Deep Run, a community of mobile homes tucked away off a two-lane road near Route 1 in Elkridge, in Howard County, Lamke figured she had found the stability she and her daughter had longed for.

The divorced mother bought a gray single-wide with two bedrooms for $19,000 in 2005. It had a wood-paneled interior and barely enough room to fit her bulky living room furniture. She planted bushes, hung a wind chime and arranged lawn furniture on her porch.

"I finally had the peace of mind of owning my own home," said Lamke, who works as a price analyst for a store warehouse and was able to pay off her mortgage in three years.

But, like many who live in mobile home parks across the country, Lamke also felt vulnerable because she doesn't own the land beneath her home. She rents it.

"The fear is there" of the park closing, she said, and being sold to high-end housing and commercial developers looking for land in rural areas.

Fear of losing her community is what drove Lamke and other affordable housing advocates to lobby state lawmakers this year. They pushed for legislation that, they say, discourages owners of mobile-home parks from selling their properties. If the landowner does sell, it provides the homeowner with some protection.

Under the law, which was passed earlier this year, a mobile-home park owner who wants to sell and change land use must give written notification to the residents and provide displaced homeowners with a relocation plan and relocation assistance that equals 10 months' worth of rent. The legislation applies to mobile parks with more than 38 sites.

According to the Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation, the state had 17,987 sites in 493 mobile home parks in January. Howard had the most parks with 69, and Anne Arundel County had the most sites with 3,316. Prince George's County had six parks with 1,082 sites, and Montgomery County had 10 parks with 97 sites.

"It doesn't prevent the parks from closing, but it makes them more serious about the decision," said Cynthia Marshall, a lead organizer with People Acting Together in Howard, an interfaith group that works on social and economic justice issues.

Marshall said that the legislation will make park owners consider the needs of residents, many of whom are have difficulty making ends meet.

Larry Checca, executive director of the Manufactured Housing Institute of Maryland, which lobbied against the bill, said the legislation will probably not do what its proponents had hoped.

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