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State lawmakers pass new rules for rent increases at manufactured homes parks

Kent County installing new sewers in Dover-area manufactured home parks in 2016 to remedy public health hazards.
US Environmental Protection Agency
Sewer construction at a manufactured home park in Dover in 2016.

The only major tenant’s rights bill to pass during this year sets new rules for when and how landowners can increase rents for manufactured home owners.

State Sen. John Walsh’s bill also expands the number of manufactured home owners eligible for state rental assistance and prohibits landowners from increasing rent if they do not fix outstanding health and safety problems.

The bill had bipartisan support, but some House lawmakers see possible loopholes that could allow landowners to unfairly increase lot rents. They include retiring state Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark), who argued the bill favors landowners over manufactured homeowners – a group largely made up of low- and middle-income Delawareans.

“There was bullying," he said. "And it ended up as a way to further un-level the playing field on behalf of the wealthy landowners and to leave the most vulnerable people in a position where affordable housing – and this makes up a large part of affordable housing in Delaware – is going to go by the wayside.”

Kowalko specifically worries about landlords' ability to increase rent for new homeowners to inflate the market rate for all manufactured homeowners on their property.

But William Kinnick, head of the Delaware Manufactured Home Owners Association, contends the bill makes crucial progress for homeowners, including defining market rent for the first time. “It is not a perfect bill, but it’s an agreement bill," he said. "We now have a baseline to work from, and both parties are working together for a change.”

The bill sunsets in five years, leaving an opportunity to revisit any gaps that appear after its signed into law.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.