Mobile homeowners say their landlords unfairly sell their homes

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By ZARIA PHILLIPS
Capital News Service

LANSING — Mobile home parks are selling the homes on the lot after the owners of those units have moved out, according to a lawsuit.

But although those owners may have been evicted for not paying rent on the land owned by the park, they should still keep ownership of their home, according to a class-action suit filed by the Center for Civil Justice on behalf of families that have lost their homes to park owners.

Those families claim they should be compensated for the sale of property they still own.

Here’s what happens:

People in some parks own their mobile homes but rent the land on which they sit from the park owners. When they are evicted or can’t pay their rent, they have to leave their mobile home while they wait to sell it, said Mario Azzi, an attorney for the Center for Civil Justice.

“In the midst of these families trying to sell their home, mobile home parks can claim the home abandoned and claim ownership of it,” Azzi said. A policy of the Secretary of State’s office allows this to happen.

The Center for Civil Justice, which is based in Flint, filed the lawsuit against Sun Communities Inc. in Muskegon County Circuit Court in February. Sun Communities Inc. and its subsidiaries own 66 mobile home parks across Michigan, Azzi said. They’re the most frequent users of this policy. Some of the towns they own parks in include Muskegon, Traverse City, Holland and Grand Rapids.

“Sun Communities own parks all across the state but western Michigan is heavily affected by this and many of those families say they feel cheated,”  said Greg Abler, housing law attorney for the Center for Civil Justice. “We think their right to due process has been violated.”

The case has statewide implications. And Abler said that his center may consider a second lawsuit that would challenge a state policy that allows the practice to happen.

“The Michigan Secretary of State has a policy regarding mobile home titles — particularly for homes that mobile home parks have claimed are abandoned in their parks. The policy instructs the mobile home parks on how to get ownership of the homes,” said Abler.

Mobile home parks can get a surety bond for twice the value of the abandoned mobile home from an insurance company and apply for ownership, Abler said. A surety bond is insurance for the mobile home. Park owners get the money back in five years if they don’t sell it.

There are problems with this policy, he said.

Parks give no notice to the homeowners that they are going through the process of getting the title for the home, Abler said. Also, the original homeowner isn’t compensated. The owners of the parks where the mobile homes reside get them for free.  

“This is parallel to a lot of eviction cases,” said Lyonel LaGrone, the executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan.

“If a family is evicted from their home because they can’t pay the rent, it’s likely they can’t afford a moving service either or to move to a new place. So the landlords then dispose of their belongings for them. Families lose their home and then their belongings. It’s what makes evictions so devastating.”

The Sun Communities representative did not return phone messages. The Michigan Manufactured Housing Association declined to comment.