Mobile home tenants fight rent increases

Fearing displacement, residents seek security after mixed result in legislature

In 2008, Caroline Hardy and her husband, Bill, downsized into a mobile home park in South Aberdeen. They both retired a few years later — Caroline from 15 years at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, and then 30 years at Lamb Grays Harbor, which supplied timber mills with machinery; Bill from 38 years at Marshall’s Garden and Pet Store — and started collecting social security checks.

There, they were “real happy,” and “the neighbors are wonderful and everyone gets along,” Caroline said. This would be their “forever home,” they thought.

Now they aren’t so sure.

Last June, the couple — and their many neighbors at the park — pulled a letter from their mailbox informing them rent would be increasing from $485 to $635 per month. Then they noticed the garbage can outside their community “clubhouse” was missing — garbage service would be added to their bill.

Since then, Leisure Manor park resident Deb Wilson has cut back to one or two meals per day, and has limited some of her medications.

“We were all in shock trying to figure out what the heck can we do to stop this, because most of us on fixed income can’t afford it,” said Deb Wilson, another resident of the park, in an interview.

According to Wilson, the 37% increase in rent since last year has forced several former residents to move out of the park and in with children, some to leave or return to work, and others experiencing a mountain of stress.

“It really changes our lives,” Wilson said. “They might as well just pour dirt over us and let us just die slowly by not being able to breathe or enjoy anything. That’s what we all felt like, like they were just covering us up and waiting for us to die. Either that or move out.”

In the last year, Wilson and others at the park have tried to rally against their park’s rent increases, advocating for a change in the way mobile home parks are regulated in the state, but some fear rent prices will continue to grow.

An ‘immobile’ home

According to Ishbel Dickens of the Washington Association of Manufactured Homeowners, mobile home parks are “part of the affordable housing continuum. They’re one of the only types of affordable home ownership that’s available now. They’re fabulous for seniors.”

There are 59 mobile home parks in Grays Harbor County, with 1,583 home spaces between them, according to the Grays Harbor County Assessor’s office. The Leisure Manor park, a 55-and-older park, is the largest in the county by number of spaces — 191 — and second largest in acreage.

Part of the predicament for many mobile home owners is they own the home but not the land it sits on.

Instead, they lease the land while living in the buildings that, despite their name, are largely immobile.

Some can be moved, but at a high price — a Department of Commerce report from 2020 found the average cost of moving a mobile home is about $15,000. Commerce’s Mobile Home Assistance Relocation Program can sometimes provide owners with $11,000 to $17,000 to assist with moves.

But because of age and structure, and modifications made to houses rendering them highway-illegal, many can’t be moved at all, according to Bill Hardy.

Rising rents put homeowners in a bind, Hardy said, because moving out means finding a buyer for the home. According to Wilson, it’s common for mobile home owners to invest in their homes believing they won’t have to move again and potentially lose that investment.

“People who live in apartments, they can take belongings and move,” Hardy said. “We own the house. If we were to move out we would lose the investment we put into that house.”

Residents said other affordable housing options are currently limited, and government subsidized housing waitlists are backed up for two years. Many park residents live on fixed incomes, cashing Social Security or disability checks each month.

“There are no places to move that are as inexpensive, possibly, as our park,” Wilson said.

Because of the popularity of mobile homes, large companies and investors have recognized the opportunity to make money, Dickens said, which has led to “cash cow” style companies buying up parks and often raising rents, with money sometimes going out of state.

According to its website, Hurst and Son LCC, the company that owns Leisure Manor, owns a total of 64 mobile home parks in the greater Washington and Idaho areas and has offices in Port Orchard. According to the assessor’s office, Hurst bought the property in November 2021 for $11 million dollars.

Attempts by The Daily World to contact the company through local managers were unsuccessful.

The Leisure Manor tenants say they weren’t aware the park was up for sale at the time, but recently passed state legislation would change that.

Seeking solutions

With limited options other than their current homes, residents at Leisure Manor came together last year to form the Leisure Manor Tenant’s Association, with Wilson leading the group as president. The group consists of about a third of the park’s residents.

The group sought assistance from the Washington Association of Manufactured Homeowners, a nonprofit that’s helped protect legal rights of manufactured homeowners across the state.

In 2007 AMHO helped push forward the Manufactured Housing Dispute Resolution Program, which allowed homeowners to contact the state attorney general during potential violations of the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act, a law that details what landlords can and can’t impose on tenants in parks.

But the attorney general can only enforce what lies in the act, which several bills recently attempted to amend.

House Bills 1388 and 1389 aimed to limit the amount landlords, for mobile homes and for other renters, could raise rent to 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever was greater, with a maximum amount of 7%.

The Leisure Manor tenants testified in Olympia last month in support of the bills, which ultimately died before reaching the House floor for a vote. Opponents said rent control laws deincentivize housing developments and therefore would exacerbate the current housing crisis.

But another mobile home bill, SB 5198, passed the House — and therefore the Legislature — on Thursday with near-unanimous support. The proposed law will require landlords at mobile home parks to provide notice when selling a community, as well as two-years notice if converting the park to another use, giving tenants to either move or demolish their homes.

It will also give first priority to tenants organizations — or other interested agencies — to purchase the land under their homes.

That can often happen when park residents form Resident Owned Communities, or ROCs. A little more than 10 years ago, the Washington state Housing Finance Commission partnered with ROC Northwest and ROC USA, groups that help park residents form ownership cooperatives. Since the partnership started, the commission has financed loans to about 23 communities In five of those instances, nonprofit organizations took over park ownership.

While cooperative ownership can come with increased fees, it can also help tenants avoid blind rent increases and park closures.

But with their park already sold and no option for cooperative ownership on the horizon, the Leisure Manor Tenants have turned their focus to city policy.

Bill and Caroline Hardy, along with Wilson, gave public comment at an Aberdeen City Council meeting Wednesday evening, and brought a petition to the council to adopt regulations requiring landlords to provide a several-months notice for rent increases over a certain size, not just for mobile home parks but for all renters.

The tenant’s association fears the park owner will again raise rents in January when their lease renews. The association is also working on getting a petition signed to present to the owners. Every month since the increase, Wilson has included a letter of protest along with her rent check to the owner.

“On that date (in January), we don’t have a clue how much they are going to raise our rent,” Wilson said. “We’re talking and thinking ‘What kid can we move in with?’”

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or