Residents struggle with rent increases and maintenance in Havenpark Communities mobile home parks
Havenpark Communities spokesperson Josh Weiss says the rent increases are necessary for reinvestment into the communities, but residents are displeased with what they claim is improper maintenance.
April 30, 2023
Editor’s note: One of the sources referenced in the story, Don Lund, who was interviewed in December 2022, died in April. The Daily Iowan chose to keep his comments in the article.
When Don Lund moved into Golfview Mobile Home Court in North Liberty in 1980, lot rent was $87 — $334 if adjusted for inflation today. After Havenpark Communities purchased Golfview in 2019, he paid over $400.
Lund said the rent gradually increased to $285 before Havenpark bought it, after which he said he came home to find a notice on his door that said Golfview was under new management and that rent would increase to $450.
Lund received another notice on his door that the rent would be increased to $506 on December 15, 2022.
Those rising rents follow the nationwide trend.
According to Statista, the average monthly rent for manufactured housing in the U.S. has been on a steady increase over the last decade, rising from $422 in 2014 to $593 in 2021.
Havenpark Communities is a Utah-based company that operates and develops manufactured home communities across the U.S. It began purchasing communities in 2019, including Golfview, Lake Ridge, and Modern Manor in Johnson County. Spokesman Josh Weiss wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan on April 4 that Havenpark Communities owns properties in Iowa.
Lund, 69, lived off of food stamps and a social security check. Because he paid rent on top of his bills, newspaper subscription, and gas, he said he struggled to stay afloat.
Lund was a quadruple congenital amputee, which means he was born without hands or feet and was unable to work.
“I don’t even come close [to covering my fees]. It’s right on the edge, so I have to be real creative [with how I budget],” Lund said. “I can’t make any more money. I can’t go out and get a job. I just physically couldn’t. I’ve tried to find roommates. Sometimes they work out. Sometimes they don’t … It’s been a whirlwind.”
Lund said he felt stretched for money to afford his $300 house payment until he received his mother’s inheritance when she died, but he said that only did so much to alleviate the rent pressure.
After the initial rent increases, Lund and other residents organized a coalition behind Iowa Rep. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, to contact representatives of Havenpark Communities in Des Moines. Havenpark Communities agreed to slow rent increases in Iowa after a town hall meeting at Golfview, but that did not stop residents from moving out, according to documents obtained by the DI.
Weiss wrote in an email to the DI that a $165 monthly rent increase was planned to “bring rents in line with other properties in the Iowa City market” but that the increase would be spread over three years by yearly increases in average monthly rates until the full amount was reached. He also wrote that rent over the last two years matched inflation to pay operating costs.
Wahls said there should be a political resolution to the issues, and the Iowa Legislature should do more to protect residents.
“Unfortunately, I’ve continued to run into the buzzsaw,” Wahls said. “The [Iowa] Manufactured Housing Association here in the state and Republican politicians who had initially been very cooperative have since become much more hardened in their opposition to real reform.”
The Iowa Manufactured Housing Association did not respond to multiple inquiries from the DI.
The situation surrounding Lund and other park residents prompted 29 other legislators to introduce a bill in 2020 aiming to modify provisions of manufactured home communities and mobile home parks.
The bill, co-sponsored by 15 Republicans and 15 Democrats, included a condition that tenants should be notified 180 days before a rent increase, and funds should go toward improving the community or park.
The bill was killed, according to The Des Moines Register, when Republican Sen. Jake Chapman did not hold a subcommittee hearing on it and said it would “have the unintended consequences of causing parks to close and eliminating affordable housing options.”
Wahls said the issues are two-fold. First, he said some out-of-state organizations moving into Iowa view residents not as neighbors but as numbers on the spreadsheet because they are trying to make money. Second, he said mobile home residents lack basic protections.
“If I had to pick one thing, it would simply be to make sure that our law treats both the owners of these communities fairly and the residents fairly,” Wahls said. “Currently, the law treats owners much more advantageously than residents. That is, like I said, as a result of a protracted lobbying campaign for the better part of 25 to 30 years. Iowans should be the ones making these decisions, not lobbyists behind closed doors.”
According to Iowa Legal Aid, the Iowa Landlord and Tenant Act governing rental agreements for most houses and apartments state that the landlord cannot raise the rent during the period for which the rental agreement was signed unless permitted by the lease. The landlord is required to give a 30 days notice in writing that there will be an increase if the tenant rents month-to-month.
For the purchase and rental of a mobile home lot space, Iowa Legal Aid states that landlords must provide a written 90 days notice before a rent increase, but rent cannot be increased during the fixed period of a rental agreement. It states landlords can charge any amount because Iowa does not have rent control laws.
Wahls said Havenpark Communities has not returned his phone calls.
“Either somebody’s in this community because they are trying to do the responsible thing and purchase a home that is affordable or they don’t have any other options,” Wahls said. “As a result, we’ve got the situation where people who are trying to do the right thing or who don’t have another option are really being squeezed, and it’s really hard.”
Wahls said he has communicated with resident organizers but said he believes it is unlikely any movement will change with the makeup of the legislature.
“In terms of what happens next, I think that probably the single biggest thing that could happen would be for more residents to organize their communities and to really build grassroots political power,” Wahls said. “The more that happens, I think it becomes harder to ignore the needs and demands of residents in these communities.”
When Lund was alive, his neighbor was Candi Evans, co-chair of the Iowa Manufactured Home Residents’ Network.
Evans wrote in an email to the DI that many residents have to choose between living a life or paying rent — a dilemma which generates anxiety.
A 2022 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau nationwide profile of older adults living in mobile homes found that 3.2 million adults ages 62 and older live in mobile homes, and 71 percent of them have an income lower than $50,000. Mobile home renters on average spend 40 percent of their income on housing, whereas mobile home owners spend 24 percent.
Weiss wrote in an email to the DI that each community has a manager knowledgeable in rental assistance programs to help qualifying residents who struggle with their income.
According to a letter written by Havenpark Management LLC from June 18, 2019, which was obtained by the DI, Democrats Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack wrote letters to Havenpark Communities’ top executives denouncing the company’s increase to rent by 58 percent and 69 percent on newly acquired properties in Iowa.
Havenpark Communities CEO and Co-Founder Robbie Pratt and Chairman and Co-Founder J. Anthony Antonelli responded to the politicians, writing the company raised rent because of market forces and property improvements.
“It has become terribly insulting to hear them say they have to raise the rents to keep in line with ‘fair market prices’ or whatever their exact wording is when, in fact, it is not the same as the condo, apartment, or private dwelling in our area,” Evans, the Havenpark resident, wrote to the DI. “A manufactured home park is one of the least expensive investments.”
According to Reonomy, a platform helping real estate businesses make use of machine learning and artificial intelligence, mobile home parks demand little involvement from the owners in terms of repairs and are the least expensive investment per unit of any category of real estate.
“Rents must rise to cover our rising costs, pay for community upgrades, and ensure that we receive a reasonable rate of return for taking on the risk of operating a multi-family real estate property,” Weiss wrote. “In Iowa to date, we have reinvested far more money back into these communities than we have taken out in the form of rent increases.”
He wrote that Havenpark Communities tracks spending and revenue closely and that its spending on improving lots outweighs the revenue generated by increasing rent by a ratio of almost 2-to-1.
Weiss wrote manufactured home community residents’ property values increase as amenities and reinvestment go back into the land. This increases buyer interest when these residents go to sell their homes.
Weiss wrote that Havenpark Communities invested $9.2 million in general upgrades and amenity additions. This includes new roads and sidewalks, tree work, landscaping, upgrading water and sewage lines and systems, and more.
There was a transition period between maintenance staff and a third party now mowing weekly, Weiss wrote. He also wrote that the community has no street lights but is considering installing them. Potholes occur occasionally but are repaired, which they plan on reviewing in the spring. He confirmed the removal of the dog park but wrote that Havenpark is planning on rebuilding it if the city approves.
According to Iowa Legal Aid’s website, landlords are required by law to make the necessary improvements to keep the lot and common areas safe and provide trash removal and electricity, water, and sewage services.
“Like most businesses with thousands of customers, despite our best efforts, sometimes we get upset customers,” Weiss wrote. “We strive to improve whenever and wherever we can, and we continually seek the feedback of our residents, particularly when it comes to maintenance issues. That feedback is generally taken and responded to by the office and maintenance teams at each property.”
He wrote that Havenpark Communities’ interactions with Iowa residents led them to believe that a majority of residents are pleased with living in its communities, despite some residents voicing complaints about the management and rent increases.
Havenpark Communities initiated a program in 2022 that gave 19 residents renewable scholarships of up to $10,000 a year toward their post-secondary education. Additionally, Weiss wrote that community managers are given a budget to hold events for residents to eat prepared food and foster community.