Mobile home owners rally

They seek changes in state law to protect parks from a real estate boom that is displacing them.


Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

Posted December 14, 2005

VENICE - With Florida's real estate boom gobbling up mobile home parks across the state, 500 angry and fearful mobile home owners rallied here Monday to find ways to protect their homes.

"We feel betrayed," said Jan McMeans of the Windmill Manor Mobile Home Park in Manatee County. "Society has reached a point where profit means more than displacing people."

If Florida's estimated 1.3-million mobile home owners could unite and vote as a bloc, "then we're going to get someone's attention," McMeans said.

They want to change state law to make it easier for mobile home owners to prevent developers from taking over their parks. And they aim to defeat legislation they say would limit their rights and cost them money.

All of them own their mobile homes but rent the land beneath them. Under state law, they have the right of first refusal if their landlord puts the park on the market. But they have no such right if the developer makes an unsolicited bid.

They want the same rights whether or not the bid is solicited by the landowner.

They also want the state to increase financial assistance for displaced mobile home owners. State law gives them $2,750 for a single-wide and $3,750 for a double-wide. But often there is no place to go or the mobile homes are too old to move.

The problem is particularly acute in Pinellas, where rising real estate values and little undeveloped land have increased pressure on mobile home owners. Fourteen Pinellas mobile home parks are in danger of being bulldozed for development, said Leo Plenski, who heads the Bay Pines Mobile Home Park Homeowners Association in Seminole.

Plenski's park is among those in jeopardy. Residents had until Monday to match a $38-million offer.

Owners of AL-DA-KY Trailer Haven in St. Petersburg are negotiating to buy their park.

And the Pinellas County Commission will hold a hearing next Tuesday on rezoning Golden Lantern Mobile Home Park near Pinellas Park for townhomes.

Pinellas officials, alarmed by development pressure on mobile home parks, are considering proposals to provide rent subsidies for up to two years to help displaced mobile home owners. But some mobile home owners think the ideas do not go far enough.

Charles Plancon, former head of the Golden Lantern Mobile Homeowners Association, said when the two-year subsidy ends, many people would still be unable to pay higher rents.

A bill to solve some of the problems confronting mobile home owners, sponsored by state Rep. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, was defeated earlier this year. Detert said she plans to try again in the spring.

The main goal of Deter's bill, said Anthony Pinzone, head of the Bay Indies Homeowners Association where Monday's meeting was held, is to give homeowners the right to try to match both solicited and unsolicited offers before a park's land can be sold.

"Tell us the price. Tell us the terms. Tell us the provisions," Pinzone said. "That's the meat and potatoes of the bill."

While activists praised Detert, they condemned Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who has introduced legislation he says would protect mobile home owners. Pinzone, however, said it hurt them.

Among other things, it would force mobile home owners to pay to have the right of first refusal. It also doesn't address the right of first refusal for unsolicited offers, Pinzone said.

The bill also fails to increase the money mobile home owners could get to help them relocate.

The mobile home owners group doesn't have a name, but it does have a lobbyist, Travis Moore, to help get their plight before elected officials.

COMMENT:   It is great to see that owners here in Florida wake up and are willing to fight for their rights! Hats up to these courageous citizens!
I only wish that the leaders of these citizens would be doing their homework. Isn't it a shame if they hire somebody who is a well-known lobbyist for the industry, fighting homeowner-friendly bills? What would you call it if you hire somebody like that to fight for consumers' rights? How about a serious conflict of interest -- or a waste of money?